Ballet - Le Pas D'acier Op. 41
Ballet - On The Dnieper Op. 51
The USSR Ministry Of Culture Symphony Orchestra, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
In 1925 Sergey Diaghilev approached Sergey Prokofiev to write a score for a ballet production which would capitalize on the new Socialist regime in Russia; he engaged Soviet director/designer Georgii Yakulov to fashion this production. At a cafe in Paris Prokofiev and Yakulov put together the scenario. They called it Stal'noy Skok, but it is known by its French title, Le pas d'acier.
The scenario set by the two depicted the proletarian society of Russia building tools, hammers, transmissions, and motors, the dancers portraying the joy of communal building and labor by moving much like machines set upon machine-representative sets. The ballet is in 11 brief episodes in two scenes: first there's the breakdown of the old Russia; the second scene shows the mechanicalism and construction of the new Russia. The whole futuristic idea excited Prokofiev so entirely that he completed the score within three months.
The ballet was scheduled for the 1926 spring season, but was postponed until June 7, 1927. The night of the premiere at the Theater Sarah Bernhardt was not only an artistic occasion but a great social event as well. In attendance were Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Ravel, Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, Villa-Lobos, Vladimir Horowitz, and Stravinsky, who was revolted by the noise of the hammers and sickles on the stage. The choreographer of this spectacle was Leonid Massine, who also danced in it.
Massine later wrote that he used "strenuous character movements to suggest the Slav temperament and the conflict in the mind of a young man torn between his personal life and his national loyalty." Andre George of the Nouvelles litteraires, who slammed Prokofiev's Symphony no. 2, waxed most poetic in his praise of Le pas d'acier: "In this vast mechanism, man is only one working part, only a little more detached. The ensemble movements are innovative and unforgettable: the bodies resemble living cam-shafts, but something beautiful-like a human smile-is superimposed on their implacable metallurgical precision. Perhaps this is no longer dance, but whatever you call it is a new and powerful form of art."
Riding the crest of their success, Prokofiev and Diaghilev felt that Russian theaters would be interested in prodncing their Soviet ballet and in 1929 Prokofiev presented the proposal to the Bolshoi Theater. The official Soviet opinion was that Le pas d'acier was ''a superficial and distorted portrayal of the difficult construction of Soviet society created by a group of selfish emigre artists who, by abandoning their homeland, lost all right to depict such a glorious and painful era in human history." Again that year Prokofiev tried for a Russian production of the work because the Bolshoi had indeed been entertaining the idea, and excerpts from its music had been performed in Moscow three times; but by then the RAPM (Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians), a violently anti-modern, anti-Western, anti-jazz, and often anti-classical group dominated. Prokofiev was subjected to bizarre interrogation by the members of the RAPM. To this day, Le pas d'acier has never been staged in the USSR.
In 1945 in Moscow all artists were expected to create something to celebrate the corning of peace with the end of WWII. Prokofiev's contribution was Ode to the End of the War, op. 105. This one-movement celebration is scored for an extraordinarily large orchestra sans violins, violas, cellos, and basses, but including four pianos and eight harps, an expanded brass section adding three trumpets, six horns, three trombones, three tubas, and three saxophones, and a wildly expanded group of woodwinds and percussion. The timpani and chimes have their own solo passages.
The Ode premiered on November 12, 1945 to dubious acclaim. It wasn't published until 1969; I believe part of its neglect was caused by the ungodly demands it makes upon orchestras. This release features the forces of The USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who yield ear-filling, sonically satisfying performances of these seldom-heard works. Whether you are anti- or prokofiev you'll certainly be amazed and delighted.