Prokofiev’s Winter Bonfire recorded as composer intended - listen to an excerpt!
A new CD sees the little-known work recorded with its original narrative
Prokofiev’s Winter Bonfire was composed in 1950 for symphony orchestra, choir and narrator, and set to a text by Samuil Marshak. It follows works such as The Ugly Duckling and Peter and the Wolf in an area that Prokofiev excelled – the world of children’s music. However, as the work was especially created for Soviet state radio, it quickly fell out of favour, meaning that, although Winter Bonfire has occasionally been performed and recorded, most often without the narrative, during the past 62 years, the work has been unfairly neglected as it is one of Prokofiev’s most inspiring compositions produced towards the end of his life.
This new recording reasserts the importance of the narrative by offering the listener three versions of Winter Bonfire: the original French version, an English translation and an orchestral version. Vincent Figuri, musicologist and actor, who narrates this recording, took great care in retracing the original lyrics so that the music can transpire through the words. Although there is nothing in Prokofiev’s score that indicates the place of the narrative in performance, the composer suggested in his annotated work-list of 1952 that his intention was to have the text read before each movement begins. Figuri, however, has chosen to recount the lyrics in time with the music. This way, he states, ‘neither the music nor the text disturb each other’. Figuri’s style of declamation aims to create the effect of a live recording: ‘The narrator’s voice is allowed to be led by the musical mass of instruments,’ he explains. Figuri has also added a paragraph of text he wrote himself, 'for a movement where Prokofiev was not directly inspired by Marshak'.
Winter Bonfire tells the story of a group of children from Moscow on an outing in the snow, and depicts events like the departing train ride, snow falling, waltzing on the ice and the evening campfire. Such a simple and quintessentially Russian tale gave Prokofiev free reign to experiment with orchestration and melody, resulting in some of his most evocative and pleasing music. Prokofiev particularly draws attention to his talent as a ballet composer with the skating music that lies at the heart of the work, as it can be considered as one of his most beautiful waltzes. The richness, lyricism and poetry of Winter Bonfire are enhanced in this recording by the sensitive performance of the Saison Russe chorus and orchestra, conducted by Andrei Tchistiakov.
Listen to the opening of the English version of Prokofiev's Winter Bonfire on the Gramophone Player below (Text by Samuil Marshak and Vincent Figuri, all rights reserved):