It is with the ‘fillers’ that the musical worth
of this disc lies.
New recordings of Alexander Nevsky enter
a crowded and distinguished field, so need to have something fresh
about them. They also need a demonstration-standard recording.
Unfortunately, this new version from Naxos sports neither. It
is a competent traversal of a score that appeals directly to our
baser emotions, but little more than this.
Nevsky begins promisingly with the powerful
extremes of expression and dynamics laid bare. Impressions continue
along this path with a sensitively phrased and balanced opening
to ‘Song about Alexander Nevsky’. The chorus sounds light, however
(possibly a reflection of the recording). ‘The Crusaders in Pskov’
continues this trend (the brass needs to be heftier, and it would
appear the recording is similarly unwilling to support this).
Nevertheless, the journey to the climax is the natural result
of appropriately cumulative preparation. A lustily defiant ‘Arise,
ye Russian people’ precedes a graphically cinematographic ‘Battle
on the Ice’, highlighting the cantata’s filmic links.
Orchestral preparation is again in evidence in
‘The Field of Death’, for solo mezzo (here Irina Gelahova, a soloist
from the Stanislavsky Moscow Academic Musical Theatre). Gelahova
is not overly-vibratoed, to her credit, heightening the prevalent
mood of sadness in the process. A pity the recording does not
allow the finale to be the stirring, roof-raising climax Prokofiev
intended. If Nevsky is your priority, your cash should
lie elsewhere: the unstoppable Valery Gergiev on Philips (with
the Kirov Orchestra and coupled, more conventionally perhaps,
with the Scythian Suite), released in April this year,
represents high-class Prokofiev (473 600-2 review).
Pushkiniana is a compilation of movements
from aborted projects put together by the indefaticable Gennadi
Rozhdestvensky. Of the three excerpts from Queen of Spades,
despite an interesting ‘Hermann’ (which would not sound out of
place in Romeo and Juliet), it is the ‘Liza’ movement which
stands out as lyrical, tender and meltingly graceful and the highlight
of the ‘fillers’. The ‘Polka’ of the Onegin music features
a spiky solo piano as a nice textural surprise; the ‘Mazurka’
is really quite tongue-in-cheek, sleazily saucy at times (for
the complete incidental music to Onegin, try Edward Downes’
1994 version on Chandos CHAN9318). The Boris Godunov excerpt,
which was not heard until 1957, is possibly not what one might
expect for this subject given its Mussorgskian history: far too
much fun!. An ominous sounding ‘Ghost of Hamlet’s father’ provides
contrast for the festive close to the disc, ‘Dance of the Oprichniks’
from Ivan the Terrible. Circus-like tomfoolery abounds,
and here the orchestra certainly sounds as if it is enjoying itself.
Richard Whitehouse’s notes are excellent, leading
the listener by the hand through Nevsky and placing the
remaining items faithfully in context. If you are looking for
your first Nevsky, this is not for you. However, Prokofiev
completists will welcome the fillers.