Spoleto Festival Orchestra
Russian State Symphonic Cappella
Richard Hickox, conductor
Valery Polyansky, choral conductor
Richard Hickox conducts the Spoleto Festival forces in the first complete unabridged version of Prokofiev’s operatic masterpiece War and Piece.
Recently appointed artistic director of the Spoleto Festival , Richard Hickox conducted and recorded this work ‘live’ to great acclaim at the Festival in Italy in 1999.
Although there are three other versions of this work currently available, this recording, in Russian, is the only fully unabridged version. It is competitively priced at four discs for the price of three.
Hickox’s previous release from the Spoleto Festival of Menotti’s opera The Consul (CHAN 9706(2)) has been extremely well received.
In April 1941 Prokofiev had set down a plan to compose eleven scenes from ‘War and Peace’. With the outbreak of war and his evacuation to Nalchik in the Caucasus, the composer set aside the half-completed ballet ‘Cinderella’ and his other operatic projects to concentrate on Tolstoy’s great epic, which kept him preoccupied, in one way or another, for the next twelve years.
The very scale of Tolstoy’s vast epic would have daunted a lesser composer. Prokovfiev’s solution to the problem of scale was to be selective, and he was particularly concerned with its dramatic integrity. His recent experiences as a composer of film scores had shown him how to bring into focus specific moments in the action and throw them into vivid relief. In the same way the characters in ‘War and Peace’ appear before us in a succession of loosely connected episodes that emerge as if from a vast and brightly coloured canvas.
The libretto for this new opera was written by Prokofiev himself and Mira Mendelson, who later became his second wife. In the spring of 1942 Prokofiev sent the vocal score to the Artistic Committee, but the committee found fault with his treatment of historic scenes and demanded changes that would sharpen the musical portrayal of Kutuzov, the commander who saves Russia from invasion by Napoleon. Many subsequent changes took place in an attempt to get the complete opera performed. Prokofiev continued to revise the opera almost until his death, but never heard the opera performed in its entirety. In the Bolshoi Theatre in December 1959, all thirteen scenes of the opera were given together for the first time, and in November and December 1982, the opera was first heard in Russia in a definitive form without cuts.