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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Complete Short Ballets, Volume 3

  • Sur le Borysthène, Op. 51
  • Lieutenant Kijè Suite, Op. 60
  • Semyon Kotko Suite
Cologne WDR Symphony Orchestra/Michail Jurowski
CPO 999976-2 2CDs
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The independent German label whose name is comprised only of lower-case letters, 'cpo', continues its Prokofieff series with two rare works and one standard-repertory item, all led by Michail Jurowski, who has been on the podium in all recordings in this valuable cycle. Sur le Borysthène, also known as On the Dnieper, has been recorded several times in its suite version but only twice before in complete form, to my knowledge, the first performance, on the Soviet label Melodiya, featuring the USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra led by the venerable Gennady Rozhdestvensky. It was a fine, if rough-and-ready effort in decent sound. I have not heard the recent release of Sur le Borysthène on Chandos, with Valery Polyansky leading the Russian State Symphonic Orchestra. This CPO entry is a marginally faster reading than the Melodiya effort, which is surprising, because Rozhdestvensky is consistently lean in his Prokofieff, while Jurowski has been comparatively relaxed in past efforts. But the latter is not only a tad faster here, he also successfully challenges his esteemed mentor interpretively. Moreover, his sonics are superior and his orchestra at least as good, thus clearly tipping the scales in favor of this CPO offering.

But, you ask, what is Sur le Borysthène like? To be honest, it will be a tough nut to crack for some listeners, a bit arid and aloof to their ears and often sounding like a second-string cousin to Roméo and Juliet. That said, the score is typically Prokofieff, full of his humor and wonderfully imaginative thematic and harmonic twists, effervescing with unbounded energy and bright colors. In short, the work deserves greater attention, though I doubt it will ever achieve much.

The more tuneful Semyon Kotko Suite is a bit less compelling, but still a worthwhile score to know. The opera from which it is derived is vastly superior. This Jurowski account of the suite, once again, is quite effective, challenging the Järvi on Chandos and offering better sound, to boot. The Lieutenant Kijé Suite is quite good too, and perhaps more importantly, is also the only recording ever made that features both the instrumental and vocal movements of the Romance and Troika. Leinsdorf and Slatkin made recordings of Kije featuring the less popular vocal alternatives, but Jurowski gives you both, back-to-back, and that's why his Kije clocks in at a lengthy twenty-seven minutes-plus. Again, the sound is good.

The notes by Eckhardt van den Hoogen are, as usual, excellent. This may be the best recording in the cpo/Prokofieff series thus far. Treat yourself to this unusual and worthwhile pair of discs!

Copyright © 2004, Robert Cummings