November 2013 Archives

Prokofiev's ballet: The Stone Flower

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Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was prompted to borrow the Library's CD copy of The Stone Flower (Comp Disc 781.556 PROKO), when I heard an excerpt of the ballet while listening to Naxos Music Library  The passage I encountered on NML had charmed me with its evocation of Russian folk music and I found much more of the same when I listened to the entire work.   Prokofiev was well advised to adopt a simpler more demotic compositional style for The Stone Flower as he had been upbraided for exhibiting "formalist tendencies" by Andrei Zhdanov, an influential member of Stalin's ruling elite.   

The ballet is based on folk tales by Russian author Pavel  BazhovThe story centers on the artisan Danilo's quest to view the titular stone flower, which will confer great artistic powers.  This necessitates leaving his true love, Katerina and during his sojourn, he encounters and is enchanted by the Mistress of the Copper Mountain who shows him the stone flower.   Katerina then sets out in pursuit of her lover.  Danilo is ultimately freed by the Mistress, who recognizes the depths of the couple's love for one another

 The Prokofiev score has much of the composer's wonted melodic charm.  The liner notes to the album intimate that Prokofiev's compositional powers had ebbed slightly at this stage of his career.  However, when inspiration was flagging, Sergei Sergeyevich often deployed snippets deriving from works he had previously composed.  In any event, I had no problem sustaining my interest through the entire two disc recording.  Occasionally, I would recognize these "borrowings"; but no matter, my enjoyment of the work was in no way diminished. 

The Stone Flower does not seem to have enjoyed the popularity of other Prokofiev ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, Chout and Cinderella, although it shares the fairytale ambience of the latter two.  If you have a fondness for these earlier works, the composer's gift for melody and orchestration will likely win you over in The Stone Flower.  For the recording at hand, the performance by the BBC Philharmonic, under Gianandrea Noseda, is both engaged and engaging and the sonics are up to the usual sumptuous standards I associate with the Chandos  label.



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