Haze and ecstasy, hallucination and dream: around 1900 – the so-called ‘fin de siècle’ – poets begin to discover the world of the subconscious. It is the age of literary decadence, of symbolism and Art Nouveau. Arthur Rimbaud, protagonist of an entire generation of French poets, who died at an early age, and Russian symbolist Konstantin Balmont inspired Sergei Prokofiev and Benjamin Britten to write some musical masterpieces.
In Les illuminations, the composer Benjamin Britten accompanies the poet Arthur Rimbaud in his descent into the underworld and the vile entrails of a busy town (‘Villes’), singing the praises of the beauty and the decay of the body (‘Being Beauteous’) and the lustful encounter of two thighs in a night of heated passion (‘Antique’). Britten follows the poet through both heaven and hell. On ‘Parade’ the composer comments: ‘It is a picture of the underworld. It should be made to sound creepy, evil, dirty and really desperate.’
Sergei Prokofiev based the title of his work ‘Visions fugitives’ on words from a poem by Konstantin Dimitriev Balmont. Around 1915, this Russian poet was at the height of his career. He was a major influence on composers such as Skryabin and Prokofiev. Prokofiev’s confrontation with the dark poetry spawned a cycle of 20 characteristically dreamy miniature pieces, Visions fugitives – ‘fleeting visions’ –.In this particular concert recording we hear Prokofiev’s famous piano suite, arranged for strings by the Russian violinist and conductor Rudolf Barshai. Out of the 20 pieces for piano, he selected a total of 15. By capitalising on the instruments’ individual colouring he succeeded in adding even more depth to the expressive nature of this spectacular work.
Visions Fugitives was recorded live at the Gergiev Festival, Rotterdam.