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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Ivan The Terrible, Op. 116 (Reconstructed original motion picture score)
Maria Prudenskaya (alto)
Alexander Vinogradov (bass)
Rundfunkchor Berlin & Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester Berlin/Frank Strobel
rec. Berlin Haus des Rundfunks, Saal 1, 2016
CAPRICCIO C5311 [67:38 + 49:11]

There are a few complications surrounding the release of this very interesting double CD set on Capriccio. It is claimed to be a “World Premiere Recording” of the complete music that Prokofiev wrote for the two-part Sergei Eisenstein film Ivan the Terrible. In 2000 Nimbus released a “World Premiere Recording” of the music, claiming it to be complete, even including sections not used in the film. Then Valery Polyansky, on a 2003 set on Chandos, recorded what appears to be almost, but not exactly, the same rendition of Ivan as Fedoseyev’s: Fedoseyev has 55 tracks, Polyansky 54, and some numbers are played in a different order. So, you wonder how Capriccio can now make their “world premiere” claim about the new Ivan, but apparently their assertion is true. The Capriccio total timing is 1:56:55, while the Nimbus set clocks in at 1:39:35 and the Chandos at 1:37:24. Clearly conductor Frank Strobel includes music in this new set that the others don’t. Thus, the differences in timing aren’t due to slower tempo choices by the conductor.

Strobel opens with a vocal number that does not appear at the beginning of the film. The next track features music that does open the movie, just as Fedoseyev and Polyansky use on their recordings’ opening tracks. Strobel thereafter generally seems to follow the order of the music as it appears in the film, adding some apparently unused parts of the score in a few places. But the orchestration he uses is sometimes different from that employed by Fedoseyev and Polyansky. My impression is that Strobel is likely drawing on a slightly different ‘original manuscript’ from the one used by the others. The differences aren’t great, but are sometimes quite noticeable.

For example, try either Fedoseyev’s or Polyansky’s opening Overture (track 1) and compare it with Strobel’s (track 2): you notice right off the accompanying snare drum rhythm and a few other minor string parts in the latter version are different. I could enumerate other obvious differences between these versions, but it isn’t necessary because the verdict regarding which of these Ivans you should choose is obvious: the Strobel set wins, not least because it is “more complete” than the Fedoseyev or Polyansky. I should mention in total fairness that Polyansky also includes a fine version of Prokofiev’s wartime choral work Ballad of an Unknown Boy in his set, making it preferable to the Fedoseyev. All three Ivans offer fine performances and have very talented soloists in the singing roles. Maria Prudenskaya is especially excellent in the Strobel recording.

But now I must offer a caveat of sorts: to those listeners not familiar with the complete Ivan score (which would be most of you), take note that the music can be episodic, featuring some very brief numbers (as you can glean from the timings given below the review) and some others that end abruptly or repeat material one or two times more than the composer would likely have allowed in a concert version of the music. In addition, the second disc here, which houses the music from Part II of Ivan the Terrible, contains a fair amount of music from Part I, though it is usually presented in a different manner. But all of these are very minor drawbacks at worst, far outweighed by the many pluses, which include numerous memorable themes sprinkled throughout the score, like the gorgeous one that would later appear in Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace, notably in the triumphant closing chorus. Also, there is the utterly fascinating, rather obsessively morbid theme on low strings associated with Ivan’s Illness, and that weird melody on tuba accompanying the bringing of canon to Kazan.

But the biggest plus here strikes you when you ponder the fact that this is music accompanying a film, accompanying, that is. It’s supposed to be subordinate to the film’s ends. It’s an astounding realization when you compare the music with that in almost any other film score by any other composer. This Prokofiev score can be played in a concert divorced from the film, where virtually all other film scores would need to be substantially trimmed to eliminate ‘dead spots’, those moments when the music hovers demurely in the background, expressing little, so as not to detract from the more important happenings on the screen. Prokofiev’s score often overwhelms the film and its action scenes, as was also the case with Alexander Nevsky, bad sound and all. Witness the undeniable fact that both the Lieutenant Kije and Alexander Nevsky music scores are much better known than the movies for which they were written, highly praised though those films have been.

One wonders why Prokofiev himself didn’t make a concert version of the music in Ivan the Terrible – it might have surpassed both Kije and Nevsky in popularity, so rich is its artistic yield. Certainly, anything by him would have been superior to the Stasevich and Michael Lankester arrangements of the Ivan score, which both contain intrusive, maddening and utterly unnecessary narration. In the end, one must conclude this music is well worth the listener’s time: it is very inventive and highly atmospheric owing to the composer’s uncanny ability to depict the characters, moods and historic aspects of the story. As mentioned, the performances are quite fine and Strobel, who earlier gave us the world premiere recording of the complete film music from Alexander Nevsky, has a grasp on Prokofiev’s film music style that few other conductors do. Capriccio offers excellent sound reproduction and very informative album notes. Highly recommended! Is a complete Kije coming next?

Robert Cummings


Contents
CD1
Part I
1. Prologue 2:42
2. Overture 2:39
3. Kyrie eleison 2:42
4. Sonfrony's Cherubic Song :47
5. May he live forever! 2:50
6. Sonfrony's Cherubic Song (continued) 1:13
7. Hallelujah :37
8. Song of Praise 3:31
9. Ivan's Tent I – Riot 6:31
10. Riot (continued) 1:53
11. The Entrance of the Tartars - Overture (continued) :55
12. Cannon are brought to Kazan - Ivan's Tent II - The Tartar 3:03
13. The Cannoneers - The Tartars 4:33
14. Ivan's Tent III :45
15. Kurbsky's Trumpets - The Attack 1:53
16. My Soul - Most Merciful Lord 5:16
17. Ivan pleads with the Boyars 6:36
18. The Tartar Steppes :54
19. Anastasia is poisoned - Anastasia's Illness 6:16
20. Eternal Remembrance - With all the Saints 6:23
21. Anastasia is poisoned (continued) - Ivan at Anastasia's Coffin 1:35
22. Chorus No. 1 - The Oath of the Oprichniki - Come back! 4:08
(Note: The album booklet lists 23 numbers, but there are 22 as No. 11 is missing)

CD2
Part II
1. Overture 2:12
2. Fanfares - Polonaise 1:47
3. Overture II - Orderly Dance I 1:02
4. The Death of Glinskaya I 1:11
5. Ivan's Tent - Overture III 1:48
6. Shuisky and the Keepers of the Hounds I - The Death of Glinskaya II 2:04
7. Anastasia is poisoned :38
8. The Death of Glinskaya III :50
9. Do not weep for me, Mother 2:13
10. You were told, Judas 1:28
11. Wonderful is God - We are innocent and at their mercy 2:37
12. Overture IV :38
13. We are innocent and at their mercy (continued) 1:10
14. The Death of Glinskaya IV 1:09
15. Song of the Beaver 3:12
16. Shuisky and the Keepers of the Hounds II 2:33
17. Chaotic Dance - Orderly Dance II 3:11
18. Song of the Oprichniki I - Orderly Dance III - Shuisky and the Keepers of the Hounds III 3:33
19. Orderly Dance IV 1:00
20. Song of the Oprichniki II 2:19
21. My Soul 2:14
22. The Oath and Song of the Oprichniki III - Chorus No. 2 - Vladimir's Murder 4:48
23. The Entrance of Ivan 1:14
24. Song of the Beaver (continued) 1:32
25. The Oath of the Oprichniki 1:26
26. Come back! 1:24

 




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