This re-release by Naxos brings together music from two of Prokofiev’s
best known film scores on one disk. The cantata came from the
original film score for Eisenstein’s film, Alexander Nevsky,
and the suite from the Alexander Feinzimmer film Lieutenant
The first thing to note is that
this CD was in fact recorded live, although it’s not clear until
the applause at the end that this is the case. There is no audience
noise and the recording is very sharp, clear and close to the
Alexander Nevsky opens with “Russia under the
Mongolian Yoke”, with harsh open octaves setting the scene perfectly.
This is followed by a song about Alexander Nevsky recalling
an earlier battle. The chorus in this recording are the Latvian
State Choir and, although I am not a Russian speaker myself,
the words seem to be very clear and the choral singing excellent.
The song about Nevsky is beautifully interpreted with a clear
contrast being drawn between the more reflective parts of the
song at the start and finish and the recollection of battle
in the central section. The third section suggesting the appearance
of Teutonic knights in the city of Pskov, with brass and percussion
blaring out a bleak warning, is performed in this recording
with enough gusto to bring a chill to one’s spine!
I had a chance to hear the recording
of this work by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,
and it is interesting to note that Reiner adopts a much slower
tempo than Casadesus for the second and third parts, which seems
to me to work better, even if there is the slightly off-putting
factor of Reiner’s recording including the text in English.
The fourth section (Arise, ye
Russian People), allows a distinct contrast to be drawn between
the different emotions; the call to arms which opens this song,
along with the more reflective middle section. Again these contrasts
are handled excellently in this recording.
It is the fifth section (The
Battle on the Ice), which is the longest. In fact this section
took up a large part of the film. The performance is clean and
precise. Perhaps it is this precision that takes away a little
from the tension that one would expect in a battle scene; for
me there is still enough there to get the adrenaline going.
Special mention should go to the percussion section, who are
able to drive the music on without overpowering it, no mean
feat with such music. On balance, I would have to say that the
Reiner/Chicago SO recording narrowly wins in terms of building
tension, but there’s not a lot in it.
The sixth section (The Field
of Death) is where we hear the mezzo-soprano, Ewa Podles, lamenting
the lives lost in battle. Her wonderful deep voice carries these
sentiments perfectly, assisted by some sensitive playing.
The final section (Alexander’s
Entry into Pskov) ends the work on a triumphant note, aided
by another excellent piece of chorus singing; they are able
to hold their own to the very end and are not overpowered by
Overall, this is an excellent
performance of Prokofiev’s colourful and exciting score, which
I would recommend highly.
The second work on this disc
is the suite from Lieutenant Kijé. This quirky score
places quite a few demands on the different sections of the
orchestra, and there is a fair amount of solo playing throughout.
In the first movement (Birth
of Kijé), we hear hints of much to come, from the opening fanfare
and piccolo tune, to the various mentions of Kijé’s theme, the
different members of the orchestra are precise and allow the
quirky nature of the music to come through.
The Wedding scene features a
cheeky solo which is normally played on a cornet, with a constantly
shifting tonal centre, this is a challenge for any player, and
leads straight into the famous Troika.
The final movement (Death of
Kijé) brings together many of the themes that have gone in previous
movements, the Romance, which is interrupted by the cheeky cornet
theme from the Wedding scene, and ends with the return of the
opening fanfare. Overall this performance is very good without
perhaps offering enough of the quirkiness which is the hallmark
of this work.