Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Ivan The Terrible (complete film music)
Irina Chistjakova (con)
Dmitry Stephanovich (bass)
Yurlov State Capella
Tchaikovsky SO/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec Moscow 1988
NIMBUS NI 5662/3 [CD1 73.05 CD2 26.30]
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It was inevitable, following the publication in 1997 of Prokofiev's complete music for Ivan the Terrible, that there would be a recording. This is the world premiere of the composer-faithful version. Urtext recordings so often suffer from the deadening dullness of academicism. This is emphatically not the case here.

The Eisenstein film exists in the shadow of the other Prokofiev collaboration - Alexander Nevsky. The film was projected to be in three parts of which only two were completed and the second (in colour) was only released in 1958 long after the deaths of Eisenstein and Prokofiev. Eisenstein's interpretation prompted uncomfortable parallels between Ivan and Stalin and this hampered its release. Part 1 (black and white) was shown in cinemas in January 1945 and in 1946 received the Stalin Prize. The music for the projected Part 3 was either never written or has not survived.

We have known the Ivan music, if at all, because of the concert scenario (with theatrical orator) prepared by Abram Stasevich. This was recorded by Muti on EMI but with even more resounding savour by Melodiya with Boris Morgunov's terrifyingly bleak oration.

For the Nimbus project the narrator has disappeared; instead we get the music unadulterated, interleaved with traditional choral music from the Russian Orthodox liturgy as used in the film. The booklet is a highly detailed affair with a full history of the film and its music. Each track is related to the plot - line by line.

This set, reviewed here by Colin Clarke shortly after its first release, has been awaiting my review since then and I am delighted to return to it and draw new attention to a resoundingly successful production.

Prokofiev is a master of scene painting and delighted in his work with Eisenstein. His film 'storyboard' technique was much to the fore in his operas Semyon Kotko, War and Peace and Story of a Real Man (we really need a recording of the latter). The invention is gripping and vivid with black bass shadows and shrieking strings and woodwind.

Colour and gruff impact are to be felt in the bell-crazed close of May He Live Forever. The darting, surging and stabbing coruscation of strings in the overture is remarkable and the skirling aggression of The Simpleton and Riot shake you by the shoulders. Great forces are clearly at work in Cannons are brought to Kazan.

Dmitry Stephanovich is gloriously secure, husky and rounded in tone. The choral contribution is notable for its precise and coordinated unanimity - try the men's singing in the Song of the Cannoneers. I am afraid that for all the vibrancy Irina Chistjakova brings to her role the Slavonic wobble in her voice is unacceptable. Are Russian female singers taught how to add vibrato? If so will the tradition ever decay? This is one aspect of the true 'voice' that I would be content to see die away.

We also note the devoutness in Ivan's Illness, the abrasive hoarseness of the violas in Anastasia is poisoned and the Tallis-like 'Wenceslas' melody for Anastasia's illness with its well calculated perspective shifts. The desperation of Ivan at Anastasia's Coffin is woven together with the imperious trumpet theme from the Overture. The Polonaise in Part II is a vintage Prokofiev set-piece typical of his psychologically bristling dance scenes. The squat and burred tone of the basses in Do not weep for me, Mother is to be noted. The bumptious and obstreperous music for the Oprichniki Dances contrasts with the whisper quiet Entrance of Ivan and the great imperial paean of the Oath of the Oprichniki makes a thumpingly good ending to the sequence.

The soundtrack interspersed Prokofiev's original music with traditional choral singing from the Russian Orthodox liturgy. As in the original soundtrack, so here. It is sung with ferocity and is utterly overwhelming in May He Live Forever.

The 26 pages of notes (English only), while lacking stills from the film, are authoritatively presented. There is a full essay tracing the history of the film and the plot. Much use is made of contemporary posters for Part 1 and Eisenstein's strikingly executed line drawing artwork. Eisenstein, the polymath, suffered considerably at the hand of the Stalinists condemned at one stage by the film orthodoxy in much the same way as Shostakovich was in the musical senate. He was even forced to destroy one of his films as a result of demands to restructure a very fine conception.

DVD might well be worth having if both parts of this film could be had with the original soundtrack, with English subtitles, and with a newly recorded music soundtrack plus all the usual accoutrements. However I doubt we will see that happen for a few years yet. The companies are too busy falling over themselves to grasp the volume markets associated with the latest multiplex releases.

I read recently that the Prokofiev Estate would be doing more to encourage the recording and issue of the less celebrated scores including Partisans of the Steppe and Lermontov. Until then I do hope that Nimbus and this team will do a similarly faithful job on the original music for Alexander Nevsky. The producers must not be tempted to use anyone other than Fedoseyev and the Tchaikovsky SO. The orchestra's name suggests a pick-up band but in fact the playing and insight are beyond blemish and imply sight reading and character identification of formidable proportions or at the very least extensive coaching and rehearsal.

There is not a bland or tepid moment to be found in this two disc set. Bless Nimbus for their judgement in accepting this recording under their wing. They should now actively seek out the other Prokofiev film and theatre scores complete and while they are at it encourage a similar project to catch Ovchinnikov's fine score for War and Peace.

Rob Barnett

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