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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cantata, Alexander Nevsky Op.78 (1938) [40:35]
Christine Cairns (mezzo-soprano)
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Suite, Lieutenant Kije Op. 60 (1934) [20:05]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
Rec. Royce Hall, UCLA on 18 November 1986. DDD
TELARC CD-80143 [61:14]

 

This disc logically couples two works which Prokofiev originally wrote as film music in the 1930s and then adapted as concert pieces. It seems to be a straight mid-price reissue of a disc originally put out by Telarc in the late 1980s.

Alexander Nevsky was a medieval hero who, in 1242, defeated invading German forces in a battle on the frozen surface of Lake Chudskoye. This "Battle on Ice" forms the fifth and longest section of Prokofievís seven-part cantata, and it contains some of the most exciting music that he wrote. Before it there is a brief orchestral introduction, a chorus reminiscing about a previous victory over the Swedes, the invasion of the town of Pskov by crusading Germans and a call to arms. The battle is followed by the lament of a Russian woman ("The Field of the Dead") and then the triumphant return of Alexander to Pskov. Prokofievís music is both dramatic and profound; this is one of his masterpieces.

Both the story and music of the satire Lieutenant Kije are probably better known. Kije was a fictitious character created by an imperial error which could not be corrected. Eventually, even Kijeís paper existence had to end and he was buried with full military honours. Prokofievís suite has five movements.

Everything about this disc smacks of refinement: details of interpretation, orchestral playing, singing and sound are all beyond reproach (and soloist Christine Cairns is excellent in the lament) but there is, I fear, something missing - impact. Alexander Nevsky seems lacking in grandeur and the violence of the Battle on Ice is too controlled. Lieutenant Kije fares worse, its humour almost non-existent. In both works the indefinable Russian quality of Prokofievís music is present only at a low level.

André Previn made an earlier, well-received, recording of Alexander Nevsky with the London Symphony Orchestra and it is hard to escape the feeling that his best work on record comes from the period when he was their music director. Waltonís 1st Symphony is another example of a work he remade with conspicuously less success Ė perhaps inevitably considering how good the original was.

Despite many good things, this can only be recommended to those who prize quality of recorded sound and refinement above everything else.

Patrick C Waller



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