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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 March 2012
These two suites belong to operas from two distinct phases of Prokofiev's career. "The Gambler" belongs to his time working outside Russia. It's a work of youth with brash dissonant confidence. Coming from the same period as "The Love of three Oranges" it can get forgotten because there are less memorable melodies. Nevertheless; this is exciting, almost visceral, expression from a confident young man.

"Semyon Kotko" belongs to his Soviet period - pre war. He sets out to impress the authorities with a story line similar to Khachaturian's Gayane. there are significant differences though: Prokofiev had to change the libretto to take account of changing political circumstances. The Nazi-Soviet pact meant that he had to make the Ukrainian landowners the main villains instead of the Germans. It's worth remembering that Prokofiev's father was an estate manager in the Ukraine of Imperial Russia so it's a fair bet to guess that his heart wasn't in this storyline: That and his anti-communist views.

And yet, despite all that, there is a great deal of lyrical and nostalgic landscape painting in this music. It sounds genuinely sincere and of a high quality. It might not be too much to speculate that Prokofiev was painting a picture of his own youth for large parts. The suite sounds like it follows the drama of the tale with the later stages concentrating more on the conflict and propaganda. Needless to say the better music comes before that. It's still a well thought out summary of the drama as opera suites go.

Like many of the Jarvi SNO Chandos recordings, the sound is rather bright but the performances are excellent. If anything, the bright sound favours "The Gamblers" Suite the most but "Semyon Kotko" is the greater work and this is a fine showcase for it.
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