A more widely known composer this time, the Lieutenant Kije Suite by Sergei Prokofiev started out life as a film score. The story, based on a novella by one Yuri Tynyanov, goes that the fictitious Lieutenant Kije was created due to a copying error by one of the Russian army’s scribes. The Tsar then issues a ream of orders concerning the Lieutenant, and the admirals have no choice but to maintain the illusion of Kije’s existence. Following a pretend romance and wedding, the admirals finally proclaim that Kije has died and stage a  mock burial.

For those interested in the original film, it can be found here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5960899000870748608

Despite constant static, the orchestra’s sound comes through well, though the film itself is very much a period piece!

Outside Russia, however, the work is better known in its arrangement as a  jovial concert suite in five movements. Prokofiev’s orchestration is colourful and exciting, making full use of an extended orchestra to evoke the various elements of his story. Kije’s gentle romance, over-the-top wedding and sombre burial certainly come alive, even in a concert hall. The score is fresh and uplifting on the first listening, but not weighty enough to incite any real contemplation.

The fourth movement, Troika, is often used to accompany snow and Christmas scenes in television, no doubt because of its bouncy sleigh bells. There is the option of using a Baritone voice in the score (but usually a tenor saxophone gets the gig), and I’m quite partial to this recording of the Berlin Philharmonic that actually uses it! The voice adds another level of drama, and for me takes it one step close to the sound of Russian folk music.