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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Alexander Nevsky - Cantata Op.78 (1939) [38:26]
Betty Allen (mezzo)
The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 1972
DTS HD-MA stereo and 4.0 surround, reviewed in surround

This performance is just as exciting now as it was in 1972 with the prestigious Mendelssohn Club Chorus singing, to my ears, quite convincing Russian and the Philadelphians on top form.

Betty Allen was one of the first generation of black opera singers to break through the racial barriers and she had enviable success in the concert halls and opera houses of the Americas. She had a long career and a hugely impressive CV worldwide as both recitalist and teacher. She is heard to good effect here in the famous 'Field of the Dead' movement.

Eugene Ormandy was in his element in Prokofiev's dramatic and filmic score and no one has done it significantly better. Unlike other issues from HDTT reviewed recently, the recording, whilst far from perfect, is quite acceptable and indeed rather exciting in surround. It is no less coarse than the original stereo issue but it does actually surround one with the orchestral sections making the 4 channel mix considerably more involving than the 2 channel. Note I said 'involving', not 'realistic'. I am reminded of the old 'ping-pong' stereo demo discs when this recording puts trumpets firmly in the right surround channel and the violins in the front left. The stereo definitely sounds a bit more like an orchestra on a platform but only a bit, because the microphones are close and the mix very much from the 2 or 4 channels with little in between. Early quadraphony about describes it. It should be noted that at only 38 minutes this is very short measure.

This reissue is $25 plus postage to the UK from the USA. When Ormandy's recording came out in the UK in mid-1976 it cost 1.49. All HDTT reissues are from commercial 7 ips pre-recorded consumer reel to reel tapes, either 2 Track or 4 Track, not studio masters as is the case with, for example, Pentatone's Re-mastered Classics SACD series. The difference is considerable given the variations inherent in consumer tape duplication. This issue is from an RCA Quadraphonic 4-track tape and was obviously one of RCA's better efforts. It is a pity HDTT have not negotiated access to masters because one imagines they would give much improved results.

Dave Billinge



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