ballet music


PROKOFIEV - ROMEO AND JULIETThough sometimes regarded as eccentric and arrogant, Sergei Prokofiev was one of Russia’s finest twentieth century composers. His music ranged from chamber works to brilliant, fiendishly difficult piano concertos, symphonies, operas and ballets, to film music such as Lieutenant Kije and Alexander Nevsky. He wrote the music for nine ballets in all, the best known of these being The Prodigal Son, Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare’s most famous romantic play. Prokofiev originally rewrote the script to provide the star-cross’d lovers with a happy ending, but Josef Stalin’s cultural police made sure that Shakespeare’s original heart-rending denouement was reinstated. This meant that the revised version did not premiere at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad until 1940, with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky, who significantly changed the score. Prokofiev nevertheless provides the tragic young lovers with some of his most lyrical and colourful music, written during a period of artistic turmoil under a Soviet regime. Famous movements such as the Dance of the Knights have helped maintain Romeo and Juliet as the composer’s best-loved stage work. Marin Alsop’s acclaimed cycle of Prokofiev’s Symphonies has been described as ‘an outstanding achievement’ by BBC Music Magazine and her recording of his Fourth Symphony was coupled with The Prodigal Son. On this superbly recorded new release, she again conducts the excellent Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and charts the doomed love of Romeo and Juliet as revealed in Prokofiev’s sublime, passionate and instantly appealing music.


Daphnis et ChloeDescribed by Stravinsky as ‘one of the most beautiful products in all of French music’, Ravel’s ballet music for Daphnis et Chloé is among his finest achievements. He began work on this ‘symphonie chorégraphique’ (choreographic symphony) in 1909 after a commission from Sergei Diaghilev and it premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris performed by the Ballets Russes in 1912. The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from an eponymous romance by the Greek writer Longus and concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé on the island of Lesbos. At almost an hour long, Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel’s longest work and contains some of his most opulent, passionate music, with rhythmic drive, yearning melodies and lush harmonies typical of the impressionist movement. Ravel extracted some of the music from this masterpiece to make two orchestral suites, but this fine recording by Spirito (chorus master Nicole Corti) and the Orchestre National de Lyon, sensitively conducted by Leonard Slatkin, includes the complete music score from the three-act ballet. The CD also features Une barque sur l’océan (‘A Boat on the Ocean’), an evocative portrayal of the ever-changing moods of the sea. This seven-minute piece orchestration by Ravel was based on the third of his complex and expressive Miroirs for piano.


Ravel - L'Eventail De JeanneRavel’s charming Mother Goose Suite (Ma mère l’Oye) delicately and imaginatively portrays familiar fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Hop-o’-my-Thumb. Originally written as a piano duet for two young children, the work is heard here in Ravel’s expanded ballet version with a scene-setting Prélude. The ballet premiered in 1912 at the Théâtre des Arts in Paris. In the 1920s, Paris became a hotbed of creative collaboration, and the children’s ballet L’Éventail de Jeanne (Jean’s Fan) brought together composers including members of Les Six. ‘Jeanne’ was the Parisian hostess and patroness of the arts Jeanne Dubost, who ran a children’s ballet school. In 1927 she presented ten of her composer friends with leaves from her fan, asking each of them to write a little dance for her pupils. The children were dressed in fairytale costumes and the décor was enlivened by a set designed with mirrors. It was first produced in private at Jeanne Dubost’s Paris salon, with Maurice Ravel playing a piano transcription of the music, and had its public premiere at the Paris Opera in 1929. L’Eventail De Jeanne is a joyous mélange of influence and individuality, from Ferroud’s Stravinsky-tinted Marche to Poulenc’s catchy Pastourelle, and from Ravel’s glorious opening Fanfare and Darius Milhaud’s Polka to Florent Schmitt’s truly grand Carnival Waltz finale. On this recording, the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire is spiritedly conducted by John Axelrod.


KarayevBorn in Baku in 1918, Kara Karayev entered the junior music school at the Azerbaijan State Conservatoire at the age of eight and later studied with Dmitry Shostakovich, becoming one of his most distinguished pupils. Karayev absorbed his teacher’s influence, binding it to his own distinctive use of native Azerbaijani folk melodies and harmonies to produce music in an eclectic range of genres, including ballets, operas, symphonic and chamber pieces, solo works for piano, cantatas, songs and marches. As well as Azerbaijani folk music and his mentor Shostakovich, Karayev’s music was also influenced by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Debussy. The Seven Beauties, based on Nizami Ganjavi’s poem ‘Yeddi gözel’ tells the story of oppressed people and the corrupt Bakhram and his Vizier. As the first full-length Azerbaijani ballet it opened a new chapter in the history of classical music of Azerbaijan. Dmitry Yablonsky conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on this recording in a suite that brims with exotically appealing rhythms and melodies. The Path of Thunder (Tropoyu groma) is Karayev’s only other ballet and uses elements of African and Afro-American music in its controversial exploration of the theme of forbidden love in apartheid-era South Africa. ‘Karayev has a great and brilliant talent which is highly developed. He surely has a great future.’ - Shostakovich.


Art of the Prima BallerinaRichard Bonynge has long been associated with opera, particularly with that of the Bel Canto age, and has also been one of the most active revivers and conductors of ballet in the 20th and 21st centuries. His recordings of the major Romantic classical ballet scores have been critically acclaimed and he has also been responsible for making the only recording of many ballet masterpieces that disappeared from view, and in doing so, showing just how worthy was their revival. A pioneer of recording late romantic-era ballet music, his first LP was a compilation, ‘The Art of the Prima Ballerina’, released in 1962, followed by ‘Pas de Deux’ and ‘Homage to Pavlova’. These three classic ballet ‘bon-bon’ LPs have now been reissued on Decca Eloquence as 2-CD releases. The music on ‘The Art of the Prima Ballerina’ was chosen in collaboration with ballerina Dame Alicia Markova, who also advised on the proper Homage to Pavlovaway to conduct such music. As well as works by Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Donizetti, they included long-neglected woks by Cesare Pugni, Ludwig Minkus and Riccardo Drigo, all of whom composed for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg during the long career of the illustrious choreographer Marius Petipa. For more than twenty years until the year she died (1931), Anna Pavlova was synonymous with ballet and her name became a household word. Valerian Svetloff, one of the foremost critics of the time, described her as ‘Slender and graceful as a reed, and as supple, with the ingenuous face of a girl of southern Spain, ethereal and light, she seemed like a fragile and elegant Sèvres statuette.’ HOMAGE TO PAVLOVA (ELQ 4804877) includes music the great Anna Pavlova used on her legendary tours and which had never been recorded before, played here by the London Symphony Orchestra and Richard Bonynge.


Wooden PrinceBéla Bartók’s one act pantomime ballet, The Wooden Prince, was composed in 1914-1916 (orchestrated 1916-1917) to a scenario by Béla Balázs and was first performed at the Budapest Opera in 1917. Although never been as popular as Bartók's other ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin (1926), The Wooden Prince was enough of a success to prompt the Opera House to stage his opera, Bluebeard’s Castle the following year. For two years Bartok had almost given up composition, devoting himself to the collection, arrangement and study of folk music until the First World War put an end to his expeditions. He returned to creative activity with his String Quartet No.2 and this fairytale ballet, the success of which restored him to public favour. The Wooden Prince is a captivating tale of magic, princes and princesses. A Prince falls in love on with a Princess, who alas is impervious to his attentions. A fairy puts various obstacles in his path to stop him from contacting his beloved, so to attract her attention the prince hangs his cloak on a staff, fixing a crown and locks of his hair to it. The Princess dances with her ‘wooden prince’ and, eventually, they become a couple and live happily ever after. Though outwardly sunny in its subject matter, The Wooden Prince has a mystical side that may explain Bartók’s attraction to the story. The ballet’s opening pages have often been compared to the opening of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, and the majestic heart of the score lies in the glorious music Bartók wrote to accompany the prince’s apotheosis. The composition calls for a large orchestra (including saxophones) and shows the influence of Debussy and Richard Strauss, as well as Wagner. On this recording the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is directed by the acclaimed American conductor, Marin Alsop.


The Russian-born Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky composed in primitivist, neo-classical and serialist styles, but is best known for two works from his earlier, Russian period: Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) and L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird) - daring and innovative ballets that reinvented the genre. Stravinsky wrote in a wide range of ensembles and classical forms, from symphonies to piano miniatures. He also achieved fame as a pianist and conductor, often at premieres of his own works. He began conducting during his French years, when he was no longer the celebrated composer of major Diaghilev ballets and needed to make money. But as important as earning a living (or perhaps even more so) was the degree of control over his music that conducting gave him. Other conductors’ interpretations often left him dissatisfied, and the scores available for performances were often full of errors or contained insufficient instructions to the performer. Stravinsky wanted, on the one hand, to correct or even revise the scores during performance, and on the other hand to execute those musical choices and ideas which could not be notated. Beginning in the late 1920s, Stravinsky also started to record his major works. This double CD collection includes six of his Neo-Classical masterpieces in superb West German interpretations, four of them previously unissued in any format. They include Oedipus Rex (with Peter Pears, Martha Mödl and Heinz Rehfuss), Symphonies of Winds Capriccio (with Maria Bergmann), Jeu de Cartes, Symphony in 3 Movements and Apollon Musagète Ballet en deux tableaux pour orchestre à cordes. Performers also include the Cologne Radio Orchestra and the SO des SWF, Baden-Baden. These valuable and intriguing recordings from the 1950s have been expertly restored and make essential listening for anyone interested in twentieth century music.


Martha Graham asked Aaron Copland to compose a ballet based on her scenario. The resulting work was originally called ‘Ballet for Martha’ until Graham suggested the title from a phrase in a poem by Hart Crane, although it had nothing to do with the scenario of the ballet. Of all Copland’s important ballet scores Appalachian Spring makes least use of folk tunes, but the Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’ inspires a series of marvelous variations at the end of the ballet. Louis Lane and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s interpretation of Appalachian Spring together with Copland’s Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man have long been acclaimed for their stunning clarity and this reissue in remastered DSD captures all the energy and optimism of the original recordings. Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber is based on sketches the composer made for a ballet by the choreographer Léonide Massine, inspired by Brueghel paintings. Hindemith was never paid for his work and the ballet was never performed, although eventually the music was used in a ballet, staged by the New York City Ballet in 1952 with choreography by George Balanchine. This witty and dynamic piece is engagingly played here by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw.


Few musical work can have had such a powerful influence or evoked as much controversy as Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score, The Rite of Spring. The work’s premiere in 1913 at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris caused a great scandal as the music’s pulsating, jagged chords vied for attention with the extravagant costumes, unfamiliar choreography and a grotesque story of pagan sacrifice. Stravinsky's revolutionary masterpiece has had tremendous impact on music ever since. Carl Nielsen’s underrated Fifth Symphony was premiered some twelve years later and like many of the composer’s works it explores the boundary between Romanticism and Modernism. Estonian-born Paavo Järvi is the acclaimed Music Director of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and together on this imaginatively-programmed SACD they brilliantly reveal the connections between these apparently unrelated compositions. ‘Paavo Järvi is putting the Cincinnati Symphony on the map’ - Gramophone.

[new classics]