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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Ivan the Terrible Op. 116 - incidental music for the film 'Ivan Grozny' by Sergei Eisenstein for soloists, choir and orchestra (1944) [Part I: 66.25; Part II: 31.06]
Ballad of an Unknown Boy Cantata for soloists, choir and orchestra Op. 93 [20.28]
Ludmila Kuznetsova (mezzo)
Viktoria Smolnikova (mezzo)
Elena Kozneva (mezzo)
Tatiana Zheranzhe (alto)
Vladimir Sytnik (ten)
Sergey Toptygin (bar)
Alexander Tsylinko (bass)
Mikhail Makhov (bass)
Russian State Symphonic Cappella
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
rec. Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory, 10-14 January 2003 DDD
Full track details at end of review
CHANDOS CHAN 10153(2) [2CDs: 117.59]


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Have we forgotten how much of a player Chandos has been in the Prokofiev discography? The concertos and symphonies have been in their lists since the 1980s as has the piano music. Jarvi and Berman were the artists in the Chandos vanguard. Järvi's 1980s Sixth Symphony with what is now the RSNO is still highly recommendable and was an early exemplar of what could be done with serious scores and digital sound. It was the first CD I bought.

In this the fiftieth year since Prokofiev's death Chandos have been issuing new recordings of rarities and exotica under Polyansky (CHAN 10056 Zdravitsa; Autumnal; Hamlet; Flourish, Mighty Land; Egyptian Nights and CHAN 10044 On the Dnieper; Songs of our Days) while at the same time scrubbing up analogue Melodiya tapes of the operas Semyon Kotko CHAN10053(3) and the even more effective The Story of a Real Man CHAN10002(2).

The present CD set is the latest revival from Polyansky and his usual orchestra. This is the complete music for Eisenstein's Ivan - all 54 tracks of it. To bring the Ivan sequence to close to 97 minutes Russian Orthodox chants and choral pieces by Bortniansky, Ivanov and Kastalsky used throughout the film have been included in their plot-appropriate places. Chandos are not the first to do this. In 1999 Nimbus issued a 2CD set of the same music where the conductor was Vladimir Fedoseyev with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. This was NIMBUS NI 5662/3. The sound quality is pretty evenly matched. Fedoseyev's recordings for the Relief label have been criticised for the opaque sound quality. However the sound for Nimbus was quite the opposite - being full, vital. broad in the soundstage and deep in perspective. The results for Chandos are related although the scales are now weighted towards Chandos in impact and realism.

You will have come across recordings of Ivan the Terrible before. Most will be the version prepared by Abram Stasevich with the linkage provided by an orator. That is still a perfectly viable and commendable way of getting to hear much of what Prokofiev wrote. Chandos recorded a Christopher Palmer version without orator in the 1990s and you can still get that. This current Chandos issue and the Fedoseyev on Nimbus present the complete score in film sequence rather as Temirkanov did for Prokofiev's other Eisenstein score - Alexander Nevsky on BMG - although the results are in Ivan’s case musically more coherent and possess a good narrative trajectory.

There are bound to be those with reservations about film music even if it was written by Prokofiev. Those worries may be heightened by the fact that this is a complete version; surely a musically sensitive suite grabbing the plums and gems would be preferable? After all it is a commonplace that film music may not work well outside its visual envelope. This Prokofiev score is not damaged in that way. The composer seems to have been driven to write rather than to have written on bland autopilot - a criticism that can be levelled at Bax's music for Oliver Twist (and I am a staunch Baxian!). The quality of the writing offsets any fears that the repetition of material from scene into another might create boredom. Taking just one example, the Song of the Oprichniks is sung by Toptygin. He and the men of the chorus sternly and fervently capture the savagery of the Oprichniks towards the Boyar landowners. This is music that, in its insistent pecking impacts, parallels the inspiration of Carl Orff in Carmina Burana.

Having in the past upbraided Polyansky for a certain lassitude in his Glazunov symphonies (also Chandos) I am pleased to be able to report that here he is on astounding form. His recording of the Taneyev symphonies 2 and 4 (again Chandos) shows him in similar fettle. In the case of the Ivan music his singers and players are with him to a man and woman this version being red in tooth and claw. The sound captured by Igor Veprintsev is awesome - a word I do not use lightly. The quaking depth of the bass singing is one indicator; the amplitude of the depth plumbing bell (always a key player in grand Russian scores), the abrasive profundity of the brass, the tortured screaming high notes of the trumpets and the upwards and downwards slashes of the strings at the start - all of these leave me in no doubt that this is a market leader. The salacious rasping and wheezing saxophone and brass pull no punches in the Song of the Oprichniks (non-choral version - tr.14 CD2).

While Polyansky avoids the dangerous extremes indulged by the likes of Golovanov there is something of Golovanov's fire in the belly in Polyansky's leadership and the orchestra's passionate and brooding response. I heard recently an Arkadia CD of Golovanov's way with Rachmaninov 3. The disregard for iterated convention, the headstrong astonishing emphases and accents made this a special experience. The Polyansky offers similar revelations.

Where the Fedoseyev-Nimbus set is completely trounced is in the addition of the 20 minute work Ballad of an Unknown Boy. The storyline is that of the revenge of a child whose mother and sister are killed by the Nazis. The revenge is the blowing up of a carload of Nazi officers. The work proceeds at an implacably determined walking pace and does so with an air of brooding resentment.

If we are tempted to feel superior about these heroics I suggest we think again, many of us thankfully not having lived through such times. The direct language of the poem and the visionary heroic gleam of the choral peroration reflects a world that most of us will not have had to experience. By all means dislike this music for its intrinsic musical qualities but spare us the superiority of a lofty sneer at soviet heroics. If this is propaganda it has about it some glory as well and non-Soviets also have and have had their ‘exalted’ wartime heroics such as Vaughan Williams’ Thanksgiving for Victory (also for narrator, chorus and orchestra), Walton's Prelude and Spitfire Fugue, Copland's Lincoln Portrait and much more.

The Chandos presentation complements and enhances a very positive impression. The booklet prints all the sung texts in Cyrillic, French, German and English across 18 pages for the Ivan music and a further nine for the Ballad. Each Ivan track is listed with a plot description so that rather than just following what is sung you can also follow the plot through stage by stage whether the human voice is involved or not.

The slip case and the CD insert include that striking semi-profile still of Nikolai Cherkassov (b. 27 July 1903, Leningrad, d. 14 September 1966). This is the same actor whose fresh good looks (one source has him as the ‘Soviet Gary Cooper’) the very antithesis of Ivan made him a natural for Eisenstein’s 1938 epic Alexander Nevsky. Interestingly Cherkassov also appeared as Stasov in Soviet films about the lives of Mussorgsky and Rimsky in 1950 and 1952 respectively.


Rob Barnett


TRACK LAYOUT AND SCENES FOR IVAN THE TERRIBLE

Incidental music for the film Ivan Grozny by Sergei Eisenstein for soloists, choir and orchestra
COMPACT DISC ONE
Ivan the Terrible, Op. 116 97:24

Part I
Scene 1. Prologue 11:34
1 Overture 2:38
2 Death of Glinskaya 1:06
3 Young Ivan's March 1:42
4 The Ocean - the Sea* 3:19
5 Shuisky and the keepers of the hounds 1:34
6 Death of Glinskaya 1:05

Scene 2. The Coronation 9:44
7 Kyrie eleison 1:11
8 Sofroniev Cherubic Hymn (A. Kastalsky) 5:41
9 May he live forever!† 2:52

Scene 3. The Wedding 6:21
10 Glorification 3:03
11 The Swan 1:08
12 The Simpleton 1:02
13 Riot 1:08

Scene 4. The Conquest of Kazan 11:53
14 Entrance of the Tartars 0:14
15 Cannon are brought to Kazan 1:08
16 Kurbsky's trumpets 0:27
17 Ivan's tent 1:06
18 Tartar steppes 1:43
19 The Artillerymen 0:48
20 The Tartars 1:17
21 Kurbsky's trumpets 0:28
22 Attack 1:03
23 Malyuta's jealousy 0:42
24 Kazan has fallen 0:57

Scene 5. Ivan's illness 8:00
25 O, my soul (liturgical chant) 1:38
26 O, Lord most gracious (liturgical chant) 0:52
27 O, my soul (liturgical chant) 1:20
28 Ivan's appeal to the Boyars 4:10

Scene 6. The Death of Anastasia 12:00
29 Anastasia's illness 3:44
30 Anastasia is poisoned 2:25
31 Eternal remembrance (liturgical chant) 1:22
32 Rest with the saints (liturgical chant) 1:20
33 Thou alone (liturgical chant) 1:52
34 Ivan at Anastasia's coffin 1:17

Scene 7. The Oath of the Oprichniks 7:55
35 Oath of the Oprichniks 6:08
36 Come back!‡ 1:47
66:25

COMPACT DISC TWO

Part II
1 Overture 1:31

Scene 8. At the Polish Court 2:53
2 Fanfares 0:32
3 Polonaise 1:47
4 Fanfares 0:34

Scene 9. Lamentation for the executed Boyars 6:41
5 Do not sob, Mother (F. Ivanov) 3:13
6 It were better for you, Judas 1:55
7 Shuisky and the keepers of the hounds 1:34

Scene 10. The Fiery Furnace (liturgical drama) 7:09
8 Wondrous is God (D. Bortnyansky) 0:53
9 Song of the boys § 3:15
10 Song about the beaver* 3:01

Scene 11. The Tsar's banquet and The Cathedral 12:35
11 Chaotic dance and Orderly dance of the Oprichniks 1:43
12 Song of the Oprichniks¶ 2:03
13 O, my soul (liturgical chant) 1:21
14 Song of the Oprichniks (without choir) 0:48
15 Chorus of the Oprichniks (without words) 3:55
16 Vladimir's murder 0:22
17 Entrance of Ivan 0:54
18 Finale 1:29

 



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