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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Ivan the Terrible, Oratorio for alto, bass, boys choir, chorus and orchestra based on the original film score (1942/44) edited and arranged by Abram Stasevich (1962) [68:43]
Olga Borodina (mezzo); Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Rundfunkchor Berlin; Staats- und Domchor Berlin
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Tugan Sokhiev
rec. live, 10-13 January 2013, Philharmonie, Berlin
Russian text with English translation provided
SONY CLASSICAL 88843 028942 [68:43]

I have learnt to pay attention to all the recordings by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin especially under the stylish music directorship of Tugan Sokhiev. Captured live on this CD the collaboration boasts outstanding playing that will both surprise and entertain.
 
Soviet Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein filmed Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Grozny) as part of an originally intended trilogy. However, only the first two parts were completed. Part one depicting Tsar Ivan IV of Russia (Ivan the Terrible) as a national hero was released in 1946 and won a Stalin Prize (first class). Owing to State censorship part two, completed in 1946, was banned from release. Filming of the third part was commenced later that year but halted by the authorities and the footage confiscated.
 
Prokofiev who had returned to Russia in 1936 from exile in the USA and Paris was engaged by Eisenstein to compose the score and carried out the work in 1942/44. Prokofiev had already collaborated with Eisenstein for Alexander Nevsky and later arranged that music into a cantata with a text by poet Vladimir Lugovskoy. Prokofiev died in 1956 and Abram Stasevich who had conducted a recording of Ivan the Terrible in 1961/62 arranged the score into an oratorio in the manner that Prokofiev had done with Alexander Nevsky. Stasevich’s adaptation follows the chronology of the film but makes some changes to place emphasis on the music rather than the scenario. A spoken text that Stasevich employed as a guide to the proceedings is not used here.
 
Prokofiev left no specific instructions as to how the work should be performed in the concert hall. There are now several recordings of Ivan the Terrible using various versions. In 1997 Vladimir Fedoseyev recorded the complete film music with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra on Nimbus. The Fedoseyev release was described as “the world premiere recording of the complete music to Eisenstein’s film incorporating music from the Russian Orthodox liturgy.”
 
The best known recordings of the score are from Valery Gergiev with the Kirov Opera Chorus and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra on Philips and Riccardo Muti with the Ambrosian Chorus and the Philharmonia on EMI/Warner. Some conductors such as Vladimir Jurowski with the LPO are now choosing to perform an eight movement arrangement of Ivan the Terrible discovered in 2007 that was prepared by Prokofiev’s friend and composer Levon Atovmyan - who also worked with Shostakovich. In his arrangement Atovmyan at times deviates from the events of Prokofiev’s score including altering some instrumentation and choral parts.
 
On Sokhiev's new Sony Classics disc the recording is indexed in twenty tracks each with a title. I especially enjoyed the rousing and urgent Overture with its lusty-sounding chorus which marvellously sets the scene. The jaunty track 2 March of Young Ivan depicts the hero with a comical gait and track 6 Many Years! features the strong and expressive voice of mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina who is splendidly supported by the chorus. The dramatic and powerful The Holy Fool (tr.7) has plenty of forward momentum although a couple of times the effect sounds untidy; maybe these are edits. This is especially noticeable at 0:19. In On the Bones of the Enemy (tr.9) the dark, bold brass convey a threatening scene contrasting with the martial percussion of The Tartars (tr.10). At ten and a half minutes track 12 To Kozan! is the lengthiest section. Perhaps a shade overlong for its material its music is tender and attractive music. At 6:47 the music becomes brisker and more vibrant. Track 13 Ivan Implores the Boyars has a heavy, laboured tread that gradually becomes louder and more dramatic before concluding with a wordless chorus. A chilling atmosphere of foreboding hangs over track 14 Efrosinia and Anastasia and I relished Olga Borodina’s lovely in track 15 Song of the Beaver. One of the finest sections is the dramatic Song Of The Oprichniki (tr.17) with low, dark strings communicating a potent sense of trepidation complete with angry timpani impacts. The menacing mood of the men’s chorus is moderated by the arrival of the women singers. Resolute bass soloist Ildar Abdrazakov in track 18 Song of Fyodor Bassmanov provides some rich and hearty singing. He is accompanied by the men’s chorus together with some prominent percussion. The heavily dramatic Finale with the orchestra and mixed choir produces a sequence of majestic awe.
 
From first note to last there is a strong awareness that Sokhiev and his well prepared orchestral and choral musicians are collaborating towards a common musical purpose.
 
Recorded at live concerts I was delighted by the overall sound quality and there is no unwanted audience noise or applause. Magnificently conducted, played and sung, this live performance makes a stunning impression.
 
Michael Cookson