replay

Prokofiev: Cinderella (complete ballet); Pas d'acier (suite) USSR Radio and TV Large Symphony Orchestra / Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Recorded 1966) (Consonance / Koch 81-5002; two CDs)

Sound-wise, this Cinderella never leaves the kitchen - though not for want of trying. Russian sonics circa 1966 were raucous, raw and constricted, and made for an unflattering reflection of what remains a hugely engaging performance. Furthermore, ex-Bolshoi maestro Gennadi Rozhdestvensky boasts a narrational flare that ensures vivid characterisation and a strong projection of the ballet's storyline.

Musically, Cinderella trades the sweep of Romeo and Juliet for a drier, wittier, more acerbic style of writing, with tart orchestration and a typically bitter-sweet tinge to the melodies. Try the Father's furious quarrel with his new wife and step-daughters, or the wind-blown antics of the Spring and Autumn Fairies. "Midnight" has woodblocks snap loudly on the tail of a luscious Waltz-Coda, whereas the score's gentler numbers (the Slow Waltz and closing "Amoroso" in particular) glide forth as if caught in a mood of inconsolable melancholy.

A shame to break the spell, even if the fill-up - Rozhdestvensky's impressive first recording of the Pas d'acier suite - provides gritty reportage of the ultimate in Twenties musical futurism. It's a "heavy industrial", rhythmically insistent piece, very much in the manner of the Scythian Suite. Again, the transfer is crude, but once in full production, these Eisensteinian workers will brook absolutely no shirking.

Although best-known for instigating a legendary series of wartime concerts at London's National Gallery, Dame Myra Hess was also an extraordinarily gifted pianist. In fact, her finest records are fully on a par with those of Benno Moiseiwitsch or Solomon (to name just two of her most accomplished contemporaries), and this worthily engineered selection presents repertoire that especially suited her talents.

Best is Schumann's Carnaval, a delectable sequence of cameo portraits where Dame Myra displays a sensitive touch, tasteful rubato and a lilting turn of phrase. There's ample virtuosity, too ("Papillons"), as well as grandeur ("March of the Davidsbundler against the Philistines") and humour ("Lettres dansantes"). Hardly less impressive are a Scriabinesque Album Leaf by Hess's celebrated teacher Tobias Matthay and Howard Ferguson's versicoloured F minor Piano Sonata, a sizeable statement that's particularly rich in contrapuntal interest.

Then there's an insightful sequence of late Brahms Intermezzi, a nimble Scarlatti Sonata and Hess's signature tune, her own eloquent voicing of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", here shaved just a little close to its first note but otherwise sounding as serenely peaceful as I'd remembered it. Those wartime audiences must have been profoundly comforted.

ROBERT COWAN

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