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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953)
Ivan the Terrible: Oratorio from the film score, Op. 116 (1942-5) (arr. 1960 Stasevich/Slatkin) [65.27]
Claudine Carlson, Mezzo-soprano. Baritone soloist uncredited.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Leonard Slatkin
Recorded March 1979. Location not given.
Notes and technical information in English. Photos of Prokfiev and from the film.
Digitally remastered by Paul Stublebine. Originally on Vox/Turnabout QS LP
CD tracks 2.0 track stereo. SACD tracks 2.0 track stereo and 4.0 track surround.
All tracks have index points when appropriate.
Hybrid SACD playable on SACD players and CD players.
MOBILE FIDELITY UDSACD 4003 [65.27]


Comparison Recordings:
Neeme Järvi, Philharmonia Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists Chandos 8977
Dmitry Yablonsky (Oprichniksí Dance and Polonaise) Naxos DVD-Audio 5.110015
Riccardo Muti, Philh.O, Ambrosian Singers, and soloists EMI QUAD LP SLS5110

This film is more difficult to appreciate than Alexander Nevsky, perhaps partly because it is much longer, but is if anything more skilfully produced. Even though part two was banned by Stalin, the original materials were all perfectly preserved and the complete film has been excellently restored including the colour ballet sequence at the banquet, although public domain unrestored prints are still commonly sold. As with most classic films, do not attempt to evaluate critically an incomplete, unrestored print; the damage done by careless handling and clumsy re-editing can utterly defeat the artistry in the original. This film being less spectacular, and more complex and dramatic than Nevsky, the music plays a less critical part, making a more subtle contribution.

Muti conducts complete the 23 numbers of the Stasevich oratorio (on 3 LP sides, the fourth given over to a performance of the Sinfonietta, Op. 48) and is discussed here partly because it could some day soon appear as a surround sound DVD Audio or SACD disk. Slatkin omits the narrator and inserts just before the finale the Polonaise movement from Prokofievís music for Boris Godunov (1957). This also appears in Rozhdestvenskyís "Pushkiniana" suite (1962) arranged from Prokofievís unfamiliar stage music. This addition gives an augmented work of 24 movements. The notes assure us that the narrator part was recorded; Slatkinís decision not to use it having been made after the music was "in the can" and entirely for artistic reasons. The Boris Polonaise is performed with more verve by Yablonsky, but the sound, even on the CD tracks, is better on the Slatkin recording. I donít see the Polonaise, interesting though it is, adding anything to the Ivan Suite, but youíre free to program it in or out when you play the disk. Järviís disk omits the narrator and also four movements ("arr. Palmer") to produce a 59 minute suite which could have fit on an LP at the time of its release in 1991. But Järvi has recently recorded a new and more complete version which I have not heard. It will also likely someday be released on SACD multi channel, so in the near future one may have three high resolution recordings of this music to choose among ó not surprising since the score is so extremely colourful.

The contralto aria "The Broad Expanse of the Sea" (selection two or three depending on whether or not the "March of the Young Ivan" is cut) contains, near the beginning, an awkward register change for the vocalist. Irina Arkhipova on the Muti recording deals with this most successfully and is overall the most dramatic and idiomatic of the vocalists, with Järviís Linda Finnie a close second. Slatkinís Claudine Carlson has a sweeter, more attractive sound. The narration does add interest even if you canít understand Russian and Boris Morgunov on the Muti recording ó the only one to include the narration ó is a model of clear diction if you want to practise your Russian accent. The choruses are all great and acoustically quite forward, except on the Muti recording which has, not surprisingly, a more operatic balance among the forces.

Slatkinís mother and father were both exceptional musicians who have left us many fine recordings. My impression of Leonard Slatkin as a conductor is that he is very similar to Sir Adrian Boult in style, an impression borne out by his demonstrated skill at playing Vaughan Williams and Elgar. His orchestra is always balanced, his tempi always so reasonable, the rhythm clear and dead on, and the dramatic emotional aspect of the music just ever so slightly underplayed in comparison to others. Why would anybody ever want to underplay the emotion in the music? Simply so that other aspects of the music become more evident and the result is a richer overall musical experience. If you want heaven-storming passion or wet sleeve sentimentality, you always have Bernstein and Stokowski.

All the versions have exceptionally clear sound but, even on the CD tracks, the Slatkin recording has the best recording quality. As with earlier releases on this label, and in contrast to some Hybrid CDs Iíve heard, the CD tracks are noticeably better than average in clarity and freedom from downsampling artefacts (which would include harsh or weak highs, clicks in percussion sounds, and attenuated bass). Even if you never buy an SACD player, this CD will be one of the finest sounding disks in your collection. In fact the difference between the CD tracks and the SACD tracks, while significant, is not overwhelming. If you were to walk into the room while the disk was being played, it might take you, say, ten seconds before you could tell for sure whether the CD or SACD track was playing. The surround sound is entirely ambient, so the two channel CD tracks played through a Dolby decoder give a comparable, if less precise, ambient experience.

If you already have the 1991 Järvi recording on Chandos, you already have the music presented as well as it needs to be. If you want to replace it with a surround sound version you might want to wait a while and see what other recordings come to market.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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