As an English language
version of the Prokofiev-Stasevich oratorio
this goes straight to the top of the
Simon Russell Beale
is in commandingly resonant voice even
if his 'oh-so-English' O sounds may
occasionally miss the mood. However
even the compete score readings (Capriccio,
Chandos, BMG) lack the awesome jangling
thunder of bells to be found in Slatkin's
Coronation sequence. Swings and roundabouts.
The rasping and scything
strings in the Prologue - Overture
do not have the studio impact found
in two of the complete score recordings
(Fedoseyev-Nimbus and Polyansky-Chandos)
however overall Slatkin finds plenty
of surging and muscled urgency ... even
terror, where called for. In On the
Bones of our Enemies (tr. 5) the
deep brass give their coal-black all
as they also do in the Cannon Founders'
Song (tr. 6).
The choral business
from the London and Cardiff-based choirs
sounds pretty authentic and is notably
fastidious on issues of dynamics and
sharply focused enunciation. Listen
to them sing with silken delicacy in
tr. 9 Ivan at Anastasia's Bier and
in the Finale (tr.12). Interestingly
the choir and soloists sing in Russian
while the narration is in English. Full
translations (German, Russian, English,
French) are printed in the booklet with
good background notes.
I thought Chistyakova
rather thickly accented and wobbly;
most obviously in The Song of the
Beaver although granted she does
'act' the song well.
David Nice's generous
notes are incredibly helpful to even
the most knowledgeable listener. The
plot is fully laid out and the history
of the Prokofiev-Eisenstein collaboration
His score for Nevsky
had already garnered a Stalin Prize.
Part I of Ivan drew a host of
such prizes in 1945. The film grew in
Eisenstein's mind into a trilogy but
when Part II was shown in private to
the censors it was banned; the parallels
between the Oprichnik Guard and Stalin's
secret police were far too close to
home. Part II was not issued until 1958,
five years after Stalin's death and
almost ten years after Eisenstein's
In 1962 the conductor
of the original soundtrack, Abram Stasevich,
arranged the present cantata along the
lines of Nevsky. Its musculature
and dramaturgy work very well indeed.
Music omitted includes the Polonaise
which Prokofiev had recycled from
his incidental music to Boris Godunov.
A few words about Stasevich.
He gets little enough attention and
there is hardly anything about him on
Abram Stasevich (1907-1971)
was born in Simferopol in the Crimea.
He studied cello with Kozolunov and
conducting under Ginsburg at the Moscow
Conservatory. He conducted the Moscow
PO in 1937 and later the same year in
Tbilisi. He held conductor appointments
at Novosibirisk (1942-44) and Moscow
(1944-52). There seem to have been no
permanent appointments for him. Even
so he was made First Artist in 1947
and honoured Artist of the Russian Republic
in 1957. He also composed. There is
the cantata Borodino which was
premiered in 1964 as well as symphonic
and chamber works. He recorded Prokofiev's
Symphony No. 1 as well as Romeo and
Juliet suites 1 and 3, Otar Taktakishvili's
Piano Concerto with Alexandr Yokheles
(piano) (the work won a Stalin Prize),
Shostakovich ballet suites 2 and 3,
Khrennikov's overture Much Ado About
Nothing as well as Dargomizhky's
Baba Yaga, Kazachok, Finnish
Themes Fantasy and Rogdana.
He recorded the Cinderella suite
2 with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra.
Miaskovsky's Little Overture and
Divertimento, Moniuszko Fairy
Tale Overture, Kabalevsky Colas
Breugnon Suite and a piece by Karłowicz
were recorded with the Moscow Radio
Hearing Slatkin’s Ivan
I am struck by the musical riches
Prokofiev lavished on this project.
How many later composers were indebted
to him? Certainly Bernard Herrmann must
have heard the fantastic wheeling and
screeching sound at the start of Fyodor
Basmanov's Song (tr. 11) before
writing his Ray Harryhausen fantasy
scores for Hollywood.
This is a deeply satisfying
version which all Prokofiev fans must