Valery Gergiev has been delighting the Proms with Russian ballet evenings of late, whether with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra or his current full time charges, the London Symphony Orchestra. Last year we had Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and a couple of years before that The Sleeping Beauty, but here the partnership tackled Prokofiev’s iridescent Cinderella.
The ballet score plays second fiddle to Romeo and Juliet in the composer’s output, and its melodies are more subtly clothed, but the work should not by any means be discounted as second rate, for it contains music of great beauty and colour. The silvery orchestration occasionally strays to the dark side, and Gergiev was keen to keep the tension evident as these two elements struggled against each other for ultimate control.
He was helped in his aim by superb playing from the LSO, able to follow their conductor’s every sleight of hand despite the use of the miniscule toothpick with which he conducts. His aims were very definite as he paid scrupulous attention to the score, revealing Prokofiev’s luminous orchestration and sometimes bittersweet lyrical invention at every turn.
There was a delightful edge of colour added by the composer’s clever use of tuba at the lower end of the register, the celesta at the upper, and the frosted violins in the middle. The tuba, played with great character by LSO stalwart Patrick Harrild, added an offbeat swagger to the start of the third act, while the celesta, under the hands of Catherine Edwards, added a glint to the treble. In between contributions were also exquisitely voiced, with Andrew Marriner’s clarinet and the front two violinists of Roman Simovic and Carmine Lauri, macabre soloists in the Gavotte, three of many orchestral soloists who excelled themselves.
Gergiev used the open textures to his clear advantage, just occasionally pushing ahead of the orchestra, and the percussion in particular were tasked with responding to his bar by bar tempi. They followed his every whim admirably, and Midnight was especially dramatic to this end, the ticking of the clock and its tolling bell completely captivating an occasionally restless audience at the end of the second act. Leading up to this climactic moment Gergiev employed an offstage band up in the gallery for the Mazurka, their fanfares providing extra frisson to the goings-on centre stage.
This was highly charged music making, full of character, telling the story in such a way that reminded us of Prokofiev’s gift as a vividly expressive and lyrical ballet composer. Gergiev himself was modest to the last; content to let this sometimes elusive but often wonderful music do the talking, and the audience were fully under its spell by the end of the radiant final pages.