“Ballet Music” – PROKOFIEV: Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet Ballet; HINDEMITH: Theme and Four Variations “The Four Temperaments,” ballet for piano and strings – Sergey Koudriakov, piano/ Bolshoi Theatre Orch. Soloists/ Mikhail Tsinman (in Hindemith) – Caro Mitis multichannel SACD CM 0012011, 62:53 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Though both of these works are in fact for ballets, it seems to be a rather odd coupling for an album. The first is strictly solo piano—though the piano transcriptions from Prokofiev’s ballet have been getting a lot of attention on recordings—and the second orchestra. Also, the Prokofiev music is probably his most melodic and familiar of his entire opera, while no one would accuse Hindemith of having any easily-recalled melodies. Pianist Koudriakov says in his liner notes that both are related to 20th-century ballet music and were composed at about the same time, so that may explain his choices.

Prokofiev extracted two orchestra suites and one piano suite of ten pieces from his Romeo and Juliet ballet. This allowed him to breathe new life into his original musical material. The piano suite has a shorter scenario than the complete ballet and ends just prior to the scene at the tomb where Romeo takes poison himself. The dance music translates beautifully to the solo piano.

Hindemith composed his original “untitled suite suitable for dance” for George Balanchine shortly after the composer had arrived in the U.S., driven out of Germany by the Nazi. But the ballet version was not premiered until 1946, with its theme and four human dance characters for the following four movements. In portions it is a concerto for piano and chamber orchestra, yet in other places it becomes a larger-scale orchestral work. The surround sonics on both selections—courtesy of Polyhymnia International—are top rate. I should mention the lovely line drawings on the actual SACD, which look like the work of Cocteau or Hans Erni.

—John Sunier