Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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Free of political ideology or any philosophical, religious or cultural preconceptions, he was generally prepared to adapt to the circumstances in which he found himself. He was, after all, capable of writing wonderful music to order, whether for the capricious Diaghilev, for chic Parisians in search of novelty, for children, for the Soviet masses or even to glorify Josef Stalin. He was the very opposite of the confessional artist who needs to bare his soul. If he had an artistic credo, it was simply to work hard and make it new. ‘I loath imitation. I hate ordinary methods. Originality is my goal and I want to be myself always.’
Some reminiscences of people who worked with him give a picture of an intimidating, rather cold figure. At rehearsals he was severe, brisk, unsparing of personal feelings. This was the outward persona of the hardworking professional who always had to be occupied, who could never bear to waste valuable time, who insisted on strict organisation and relentless punctuality.
But we also know how funny and kind he could be with his friends and family. Prokofiev remembered his childhood in the Ukrainian countryside as idyllically happy, and never lost a fresh, uncomplicated vision of the world. When fairy tales, animals and children are featured in his music they are never sentimentalised, but treated with irony, enjoyment and a delightful sense of the ridiculous. He liked to wear bright clothes (particularly ties and socks). Rather endearingly, his acute rhythmic sense did not extend to his own body when he was away from a keyboard: he was a clumsy dancer and an enthusiastic but erratic driver. A passionate chess player, he was delighted when in 1914 he managed to beat (just once) the reigning world champion Raul Capablanca. He loved word games and was at home in several languages. An accomplished traveller, he enjoyed good food, but was not interested in historical monuments and soon got bored with sightseeing. His friend the émigré composer Nicolas Nabokov recalled that all he could find to say when visiting Chartres Cathedral was, ‘I wonder how they got those statues up so high without dropping them’. He found it hard to take anything too seriously, often to his own disadvantage.
As a boy he was simply bursting with energy and talent, very sure of himself, and something of a spoiled brat. His student career followed the usual stages: precocious talent – golden boy – impatient radical – confounded nuisance. He came to wide public attention with two piano concertos, the first of which appeared in 1912, the same year as Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Futurist manifesto ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste’. Hostile critics, offended by Prokofiev’s high level of dissonance and his percussive treatment of the piano, thought that he, too, was slapping the public’s face. True, his music was often brash and provocative, and he certainly enjoyed being naughty, but there was much more to it than that: a tremendous vitality, a strong lyrical impulse and a rare prodigality of ideas.
Whatever compromises he had to make through the changing circumstances of his life, Prokofiev remained true to a musical character which was essentially formed by the time he was 20, a character that has proved both unique and widely appealing. In all his music we find striking images of contrast and confrontation, strange juxtapositions of mood, and powerful rhetoric followed by sudden moments of shy or tender reflection. Despite his generally cheerful nature there is plenty of darkness, even sometimes tragedy, but it is expressed with clear objectivity and never confused with self-indulgence or sentimentality.
from notes by Andrew Huth © 2009