Search This Blog

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Make Way for “Duckling”

Prokofiev Dept.: Here’s the first of two Prokofiev-centric pieces I wrote in review of concerts of his music. Harlow Robinson, who has written an excellent biography of the composer as well as a collection of his marvelous letters, attended both events – and, years earlier, was a guest on my WMHT radio show. My Prokofiev obsession goes back even farther.


ALTHOUGH IT WAS A SERIES of early works by Sergei Prokofiev comprising the program of Saturday night's concert at the Albany State University Performing Arts Center, a soft-spoken scholar nearly stole the show.

Sergei Prokofiev
Dr. Harlow Robinson just published his critically-acclaimed biography of the Russian composer, and this was one of two concerts scheduled in celebration of the event. 

Each selection was introduced by Robinson, often with an excerpt from his book, giving us a very well-rounded portrait of the composer as a brash young man.

Robinson acknowledged the fact that Prokofiev had a relatively skimpy output of songs while introducing two wonderful settings: first was a group of poems by his contemporary, Anna Akhmatova; second a version of the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling.”

Soprano Anne Turner and pianist William Jones collaborated in thoroughly enjoyable performances. The Akhmatova poems (read for us in the original Russian by Robinson, who is a professor of Slavic languages) are lean and musically very faithful to the texts. The “Ugly Duckling,” evidently near to the composer’s heart, demonstrated a charm similar to “Peter and the Wolf” in a voice more harmonically complicated. And the latter was enhanced by Turner’s carefully theatrical presentation.

Jones was featured throughout, starting off with two pieces from the Op. 12 collection. He took a more refined approach than the music (or Prokofiev’s reputation, at any event) would suggest: in the case of the “Harp” prelude, a marvelously emulative scherzo, this was appropriate; the Scherzo that followed lacked some dynamic ferociousness.

As neglected as the composer’s early songs are his early piano sonatas; the Third, “From Old Notebooks,” is a youthful reworking of an even more youthful study, combining Prokofiev’s gift for melody with his harmonic restlessness. Jones played the work with obvious affection.

And the concert ended with the nice flavor of the “Overture on Hebrew Themes,” for a sextet that included Jones, clarinetist Susan Martula, violinists Anne-Marie Barker and Janet Rowe, violist Susan St. Amour and cellist Erica Pickhardt. Too bad there isn’t more for this combination of instruments: the players worked together splendidly.

The next and final concert in the series is at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Main Theater at ASU and features pianist Randall Hodgkinson playing Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3; the University Community Orchestra also performs excerpts from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” and, with vocal ensemble and soloist Carol Randles, the cantata “Alexsander Nevsky.”  

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 27 April 1987

No comments: