RECORDS / DOUBLE PLAY: Supporting the reds and the blues: Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson compare notes on recordings of Prokofiev and Gershwin

PROKOFIEV: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution. The Stone Flower - excerpts

Gennady Rozhdestvensky

(speaker), Philharmonia Orchestra

and Chorus / Neeme Jarvi

(Chandos CHAN 9095)

A FEW words of advice: close all doors and windows, swallow hard. Prokofiev's October Cantata begins with a scream and ends with the red flag raised high and the words of Joseph Stalin on the lips of the multitude - a great choral paean to the future of communism. How innocent, no, how staggeringly naive it all sounds now, the musical equivalent of those gaudy, hand-painted propaganda posters or the heroic sculptures on revolutionary mausoleums. October is a collector's item, comrade Prokofiev doing his patriotic duty with a will.

For better or worse, he believed in these notes: big, rolling, idealistic tunes carry Lenin and Stalin's words to the people (don't look too closely at the texts). They are the shape of War and Peace to come. In the aftermath of revolutionary victory the shimmer of frosty air foreshadows the movie mood-painting of Alexander Nevsky. 'Revolution' itself is more Boy's Own than Eisenstein, a 10-minute comic strip leaving precious little to the imagination - gunfire, alarm bells, sirens invade the percussion section, extra brass reinforce the choral declamations, an accordion band brings the proletariat dancing into the fray, and Gennady Rozhdestvensky is comrade Lenin, his baton laid down for a megaphone. Get the picture?

Jarvi and his forces do rather well. And they are back to the land with excerpts from another Prokofiev rarity, the ballet The Stone Flower - music of coarse-ground, peasanty exuberance played with grit and amplitude. ES

SERMONS by Stalin, hortatory extracts from Lenin and the Communist Manifesto, grandiose, aggressively 'realistic' orchestral writing, extra accordions and military band, rabble-rousing speeches delivered through megaphones - what place is there for the likes of the October Cantata in the post-Soviet world? Well, for one thing there are no 'likes' of Prokofiev's October. For whatever reasons, he seems to have thrown all his energies and gifts into this monstrous project, and the result is something that thrills and amazes in spite of itself.

Neeme Jarvi seems to have energised the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra wonderfully. One or two exposed passages in the choral writing show signs of strain; otherwise the conviction, sweep and muscularity are enough to make one suspect seething revolutionary feeling on the South Bank. The Stone Flower is gentler on the ears, readier with the charm, with roots thrust deeper into 19th-century nationalist soil, but just as inescapably Prokofiev at every twist and sudden turn. The recording has atmosphere and clarity. SJ

GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F. Rhapsody in Blue.

Second Rhapsody

Howard Shelley, Philharmonia

Orchestra / Yan Pascal Tortelier

(Chandos CHAN 9092)

ANYONE who can turn Rachmaninov with Howard Shelley's instinctive malleability has to be a natural for Gershwin. And he is. The opening of the Concerto finds him relaxed, laid-back, as if strumming away alone in the wee small hours. But he can be grand and glamorous, playful and quick-witted, too; he understands how the Second Rhapsody is caught in a cross-current between urban grittiness and Hollywood dreams. His Rhapsody in Blue is chic and sophisticated, born of the concert hall but mindful of the jazz club - he lacks only the sheer volatility, the improvisational heat of a Leonard Bernstein or a Michael Tilson Thomas.

As for Tortelier and the Philharmonia - forget the American in Paris and open your ears to this Frenchman in New York. You could lose yourself in the opulence of the orchestral sound. The high-lacquer sheen of the strings, impatient for the next swoony blues, the almost indecently ripe horn embellishments of the Second Rhapsody, the husky trumpet solo at the heart of the Concerto, and a flute who bends the blue notes just as seductively.

I am still drawn by the sepia-toned jazz-band original of Rhapsody in Blue (Andrew Litton's is the recording to have), but this symphony-of-the-stars swings and luxuriates well enough. In another life, Chandos must have engineered for Busby Berkeley. ES

HOWARD SHELLEY and Yan Pascal Tortelier's performance of the long-neglected Second Rhapsody could have been designed to bear out Keith Potter's contention in the insert-note that darkness - a reflection perhaps of collapsing national morale in the early 1930s - is at the heart of it. There is an urgent, almost grimly determined quality - even the humour has a sinister glint. It's not that Shelley plays down the brilliance of the piano writing - there's plenty of devilish panache, and he seems to delight in the sheer sonorousness of the more richly textured solos - but beguiling it isn't.

In fact there are moments in all three performances where the arc-light casts surprisingly inky shadows - hints of a nightmare Broadway that might at any moment turn into an expressionist film-set. The trumpet solo that leads into the nightscape of the concerto's slow movement carries more than a hint of desolation. Even Rhapsody in Blue has its astringent moments.

The orchestral playing is as stylish and sonorous as Shelley's, and the recording gives extra edge to climaxes. Relentless? It can be, but the drive is compelling, the vision unexpected and often convincing. SJ

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?