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16, Laurie Grove. Serge Prokofiev Archive.

Serge Prokofiev on piano.

     A short but effective feature on Prokofiev (prepared by David Thompson) was shown on television in association with Martha Argerich's sparkling performance of the Third Piano Concerto at the London Proms slowly opened concert on 27 August, broadcast live on BBC 2. While the stage was being reorganised after a short piece by Takemitsu, commentator James Naughtie investigated the concerto by visiting the Serge Prokofiev Archive.
     The sweeping camera moved up the street, pausing on the Archive's entrance. On the first floor, a door slowly opened to reveal an imposing cardboard cut-out of Prokofiev in 1921. The programme revealed that it was Lina Prokofiev who had played a vital role in the creation of this unique and important resource. It was also Lina - heard for the first time from a 1979 recording kept at the Archive - who recalled the circumstances in which the concerto had been written. She and Prokofiev were then staying at a summer house at St Brévin-les-Pins on the French Atlantic coast. Prokofiev had dedicated the concerto to the symbolist poet Balmont who was living close by, to which Balmont responded by writing a sonnet to the glory of the composer:

"Prokofiev! Music and youth in bloom!
In you the orchestra longs for the sounds of summer,
And the sun's drum is struck by the invincible Scythian."


     Lina recalls: "And I can remember to this day, Balmont came with this poem he had written and he read it. Oh, it was a marvellous poem!" On some photos, shown for the first time, Balmont, Serge and Lina were seen on the beach.
     Perhaps the most magic moment was a one-minute clip of Prokofiev himself performing the concerto. This silent film, shot in Moscow in 1927 during Prokofiev's Russian comeback tour, was accompanied by Prokofiev's only recording of the concerto, made in London in 1932. On the film, Prokofiev is in full control, apparently detached and seemingly unperturbed by the extreme virtuosity which this work requires.
     It has been a pleasant surprise to receive so many positive comments after the broadcast, which was welcomed as a valuable complement to this great concert. It was also great publicity for the Archive and Goldsmiths College, as it was shown at prime time and in association with one of the best attended evenings of this Proms season.

Noëlle Mann

(Published: 08.09.01)

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