Prokofiev, Debussy and Roussel

Sergei Prokofiev, like Shostakovich, lived and did much of his composition in Russia under the Bolshevik/Communist state. Unlike Shostakovich, he was for the most part able to compose within the approval of the State, though he did run into official criticism towards the end of his life: ironically he died on the same day as Stalin.

Yesterday evening at the Royal Festival Hall the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Asheknazy performed two of his works: the light-hearted 'Classical' Symphony and the powerful Second Piano Concerto in which the soloist was Evgeny Kissin. The concerto is extremely demanding on the pianist, both in technique and sheer stamina - it runs for half an hour and makes use of a lot of heavily played chord clusters. Its dissonance caused excited reactions at its premiere in 1913 - reminiscent of the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring - and though now its modernism has been passed by it is still a challenging work for audience and performers. Kissin gave a spectacular performance and gained a well-earned enthusiastic ovation.

Two French works made up the second half. Debussy's impressionistic Prelude à l'après-midi d'un faun, and the second suite (in effect Act 2) from Albert Roussel's ballet Bacchus and Ariane. Both invoke the ancient world, but where Debussy creates a misty romanticism, Roussel reflects the harsh light and primitive society of the early Greeks in the story of Ariane (Ariadne) arriving on Naxos on her way back from Crete with Theseus, only to be seduced by the worshippers of Bacchus (and the God himself) into their drunken revels. The ballet is rarely if ever performed now - it would be interesting to see it - but the music, though not well known, is exciting and atmospheric. Both works were well played and benefitted from the new, warm, acoustic of the hall.

Posted: Fri - January 18, 2008 at 09:39 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM