Stories of Romance, Adventure and Magic by Russian Composers

This program celebrates music that tells stories -- of romance, adventure, and magic.  Let us take you to a Persian court where Scheherazade weaves her tales, to a Russian village market where a puppet comes to life, to a Polovetsian camp where a captive prince is entertained with song and dance, and to a magical castle where two strangers’ eyes meet for the first time…

 

Igor Stravinsky’s revolutionary ballet Petrushka premiered in Paris in 1911.  The libretto portrays the Shrovetide Fair, a traditional part of the pre-Lenten Carnival festivities in Russia.  The first movement of the suite, the energetic, angular Russian Dance, depicts the joyful scene.  A group of puppets, in a Russian version of commedia dell’arte, comes magically to life to entertain the revelers.  Petrushka is the clown; his role in the puppet show is to be the object of endless abuse from fellow puppets, his master, and the heartless crowd.  Petrushka’s Room opens with a drumroll, as a foot kicks him onstage.  He curses to the sound of the famous “Petrushka chord”, the most celebrated early use of bi-tonality.  The music turns more lyrical as Petrushka thinks of his love for a fellow puppet, who, alas, loves him not.  The much longer final movement is a series of dances by the personages who come to the fair -- the coachmen, the nurses, the grooms, a trained bear, even the devil himself.  The version heard on this CD is the celebrated knuckle-breaking 2 piano setting by Victor Babin.

 

The transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral suite Scheherazade, based on the The Arabian Nights, is our own.  As in all of our orchestral transcriptions, we do not strive to reproduce the sound of the orchestra, but rather to create a pianistic masterpiece.  We start with Rimsky-Korsakov’s own version for piano 4-hands, with many additions from the orchestral score as well as Margarita Zelenaia’s Fantasy for 4 Pianos. The original work has been beloved by audiences since its premiere in 1888, a work of melodic richness and rhythmic vitality.  Rimsky wrote a brief introduction: “The Sultan Schariar, convinced that all women are false and faithless, vowed to put to death each of his wives after the first nuptial night.  But the Sultana Sheherazade saved her life by entertaining her lord with fascinating tales, told seriatim, for a thousand and one nights.  The Sultan, consumed with curiosity, postponed from day to day the execution of his wife, and finally repudiated his bloody vow entirely.”

 

Alexander Borodin’s best-loved work, his opera Prince Igor, which, although 18 years in the making, was left unfinished at his death, was later completed by Rimsky-Korsakov.  The Polovetsian Dances, which are part of the 2nd Act, have fully entered popular culture, often used in movies, musicals and even commercials.  In mood they run the gamut from the exquisitely melodic, to wildly boisterous.  The unforgettable melody of the first movement returns in the Finale, as does the wild figuration of the second.  The third movement, remarkably, is a Viennese Waltz.  The Finale reprises some of the material from the earlier movements, and devolves into joyful, almost ecstatic mayhem.

 

Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella is something of a miracle.  Written during the darkest days of WW2, when Russia’s eventual victory was far from clear, during the same period of time when Prokofiev also composed some of his most angst-filled Symphonies and Sonatas, Cinderella is a creation of light, hope and enchantment.  The ballet is all about two kinds of magic – the kind that emanates from the Fairy Godmother’s wand, and the kind that happens when two young people meet. The Suite-Fantasy by Gottlieb combines some of the most remarkable material from the ballet, following the story from Cinderella’s first encounter with her Fairy Godmother, to her magical transformation, to the glorious Waltz to the final Amoroso as Cinderella and her Prince dance off into the sunset.

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