"The Ugly Duckling", op.18 ( Francoise Ogeas - Soprano )
Overture on Hebrew Themes, op.34
Summer Day - suite, op.65a
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L'Orchestre du Theatre des Champs-Elysees conducted by Andre Jouve
Ducretet-Thomson DTL 93084. Original 1956 Decca pressing/matrices: ADU 168 -2B / ADU 167 -1B
Re-edited January 2011 Not on CD Sleeve-note & text/translation >>>
THE UGLY DUCKLING, Op. 18
Prokofiev's The Ugly Duckling is founded on the story by Hans Andersen, and was composed towards the end of 1914, whilst Prokofiev was completing one of his most important works, the Scythian Suite. It seems possible that in illustrating this wonderful little tale, the composer was seeking some kind of relief from the tension which the barbaric ritual and exotic violence of the Suite had aroused in him. In truth, one cannot imagine a more marked contrast. Whilst the mythological ballet is full of the roughness and exuberance so characteristic of Prokofiev at that time, Andersen's tale is told in music that is simple and clear, having no other purpose than to underline the story and to bring to it a magic of its own - a magic of sound.
Here is the story: A duck is brooding at the foot of a garden. She is tired of sitting on her eggs. Suddenly the shells burst open, and the little ducklings revel in the daylight. Only one of the brood is a disappointment: he is without feathers, and has very long legs. The others go to greet their grandmother, the cane espagnole, and are told of the conventions of the duck-World. Only the ugly duckling hangs to one side, for he is hated. His companions hope that he will be eaten by the cat. The cocks peck him, and the turkey, inflated like a sail, bears down upon him. Filled with shame, the ugly duckling rushes off. At the sight of him, the birds take to flight. On a pond, he catches sight of some wild ducks. "Who is this monstrosity?" they ask. The poor duckling lowers his head and trembles. Heedless of his abject bows, they declare "No child of ours will think of marrying you". But he was far from thinking of marriage! ...
During the autumn, his troubles multiply. He is beside himself with misery. A hunting-dog wants to eat him. Then comes winter, bringing with it ice and wind.... At last the sunny days return, and the duckling feels stronger. He flies away, and alights in a park. On a pond are gliding three swans, who are so beautiful that he feels drawn towards them. Overcome by the nobility of these birds, he wishes to die. "Ah, kill me", he stammers, and lowers his head. As he does so, he sees his reflection in the clear water; it is that of a resplendent swan.
Maxim Gorky, who loved this work dearly, saw in it a reflection of Prokofiev's own career. The ducks and other unkind beasts were the unfavourable critics and professors, whilst Prokofiev himself resembles the unfortunate little swan.
In 1932, at the time of his final return to Russia, Prokofiev undertook the revision of his earlier works, and it is the revised version of The Ugly Duckling that is here presented.
OVERTURE ON HEBREW THEMES, Op. 34
The Overture on Hebrew Themes was written in New York in 1919. Its composition took Prokofiev two days. The work was intended for a few friends from the St. Petersburg Conservatory who had reunited in America and formed a Jewish chamber music ensemble called "Zimro". It has been claimed that the themes are authentic, but they are nothing of the sort. One of Prokofiev's happiest gifts was his ability to invent complete melodies which so resembled popular music that they were taken to be genuine. Dance tunes of the freilech type are contrasted with a long and poignant dirge. The writing is notable for its fresh and lively colouring, and the rhythms within the 2/4 metre are haunting in their simplicity. The original version of the overture, for string quartet, clarinet and piano, was given its first performance on April 20, 1920, in New York. The work soon became famous, and in 1934 Prokofiev re-orchestrated it for small symphony orchestra. This is the version presented here.
SUMMER DAY SUITE, Op. 65a
The Summer Day Suite is taken from a collection of piano pieces entitled Music for Children which Prokofiev wrote at Polenov during the summer of 1935. The composer enjoyed giving free rein to his long-standing love for sonatina-form. The language which he uses evokes the music of the eighteenth century, but, to quote an expression of his son, it is "Prokofievised" at every bar. In 1941, the composer selected seven of the twelve pieces, orchestrated them, and turned them into a little symphonic suite for children.
1. Morning is an andante tranquillo in C major. After a transparent opening founded on woodwind calls supported by string tremolos, an ample melody gradually arises from the bass, to the accompaniment of crystalline arpeggios from violins and flutes. The phrase reaches a climax, and after a downward flow of scale-like figurations, there is an evocation of the opening bars.
2. Tip and run is a lively rondo in F major (6/8 time). The refrain is marked by incisive pizzicati, and is succeeded by a more melodic episode that relies to a great extent on arpeggios. There is then a varied reprise of both the refrain and the episode, and a brief coda on the first idea.
3. Waltz. This is a delightful parody of a cheap hurdy-gurdy waltz, but at the same time everything is suffused with a poetry through which shines the composer's genius. The key is A major.
4. Repentance. This moderato movement is in D minor. The chief idea is reminiscent of Russian folklore, whilst the harmony recalls that of Bartok in certain of his children's pieces. The form consists of several slightly varied repetitions of the main idea, sometimes linked by simple harmonic progressions.
5. March. The humorous sallies that are so typical of Prokofiev appear in this graceful C major tempo di marcia. The form is ternary.
6. Evening. This ternary F major andante tenero is in sonatina style, and contrasts two strains. The first is very calm. interlaced here and there with light arpeggios; the second is more melancholy, with mysterious string tremolos, an obsessive rhythm, and gentle percussion effects in which castanets imitate the cry of the cricket.
7. The Moon is over the meadows. An andantino in D major. The flute announces an exquisite melody - almost a popular Russian song - to the accompaniment of arpeggios and light pedal points from the strings. The melody appears in a number of forms, whilst the instrumental colours slowly change, like the chiaroscuro of a summer-night in the country.
Translated from the French of Luc-Andre Marcel