Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)
Performance date: 07/07/2018
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 1915 - 1917
Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ
Instrumentation: vc, pf
Nathalia Milstein -
71. CRESPO SERIES – BANTRY HOUSE 15.00
Nathalia Milstein [piano]
Sergey Prokofiev [1891-1953]
Visions Fugitives Op.22 [1915-1917]
4. Animato – piu sostenuto
5. Molto giacoso
6. Con eleganza
9. Allegretto tranquillo
11. Con vivacita
12. Assai moderato
18. Con una dolce lentezza
19. Presto agitatisimo e molto accentuate
20. Lento irrealmente
Prokofiev avoided the draft for the First World War because he was the only child of a widow (his father had died in 1910). So, stimulated by his recent visit to London, he began three extraordinarily productive years. He composed, among other works, the “Classical” symphony, the first violin concerto, the third and fourth piano sonatas, two ballets for Diaghilev and his first opera. It was during this period of intense work, he also wrote the Visions Fugitives
The title of Visions is taken from a poem called “I Do Not Know Wisdom” by the Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont. The relevant verse can be translated as:
In every fleeting vision
I see whole worlds
They change endlessly
Flashing in playful rainbow colours
It is thought that these short pieces were first written for friends. Later Prokofiev often used them as encores at the end of concerts. It is not clear when he had the idea of bringing them all together. He performed them all at a salon for Balmont in August 1917 who immediately composed a sonnet dedicated to Prokofiev in reply.
Each piece in Visions is short. The longest lasts about two minutes, the shortest about thirty seconds. Prokofiev uses dissonant harmonies throughout but this is not (except in a couple of places) the percussive modernism of his first two piano concertos. Here the emphasis is much more on elegance, charm and humour. The Visions are popular pieces and rightly so. One or two played together as an encore would be entirely delightful. However when they are played together as a group of twenty, there is a different mood. Underneath the smiling charm, doubts and uneasiness emerge.
The first four pieces form a group with the tempi increasing gently in each piece. After the humour of Nos 5 and 6, the longest Vision is the Pittoroesco. The rippling chords in the treble provide a lushness which could almost come from Debussy. Commodo (no 8) shows off Prokofiev’s talents for pastiche.
The four Visions (Nos 12 – 15) are brief but the feeling of uneasiness begins to grow. This is by no means entirely dispelled in the three slower but extraordinarily beautiful Visions (16 – 18). Prokofiev explained later that the presto agitatissimo (no 19) was an attempt to describe the frenzy of the crowds during the February Revolution of 1917. The final Vision, lento irrealmente (dreamily slow) is glacially beautiful. It is so quiet it could almost be a lullaby. In these Visions, elegant and boisterous, amusing and sad, Prokofiev uses modernist techniques to produce a wonderful variety of beautiful fragments.
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