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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Ivan the Terrible Op. 116 (1945) (concert oratorio version arranged by Abram Stasevich, 1962)
Verses by Vladimir Lugovsky - text by Sergei Eisenstein with new English narration adapted by Edward Kemp.
Irina Tchistyakova (mezzo)
James Rutherford (bass-bar)
Simon Russell Beale (narrator)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC SO/Leonard Slatkin
rec. Live Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 18 July 2003. BBC
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61549-2 [69:42]

 

As an English language version of the Prokofiev-Stasevich oratorio this goes straight to the top of the lists.

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 is given.

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 demise.

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 the internet.

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 Orchestra.

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 hear.

Rob Barnett



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