Prokofiev: The Fiery Angel

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: The Fiery Angel
PERFORMER: Galina Gorchakova, Sergei Leiferkus, Konstantin PluzhnikovKirov Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 446 078-2 DDD
Conjuring a strange medieval world where the human capacity for good and evil is trammelled on the one hand by necromancy real or imagined and on the other by the looming shadow of the Inquisition, these hair-raising operatic tableaux based on Bryusov’s symbolist novel can seem haphazard at first hearing. Make no mistake, though: Prokofiev’s infernal machinery is finely tuned, and it takes the impeccable timing of Valery Gergiev in the equally vital context of a live performance to show us how this unrelenting study in ambiguous obsession so carefully packs its punches. The fraught counterpoint of thrashing orchestral climaxes, when the demons that plague heroine Renata have their high noon, is expansively negotiated; blistering Kirov brass help to twist the screw that failed to turn in Neeme Järvi’s DG studio recording.

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Gorchakova’s lustrous portrayal of the tormented Renata is her finest recorded hour so far. She lacks the last degree of hysterical edge and some of the middle-range beauties discovered by Järvi’s Nadine Secunde; but her unbeatable upper-register strengths make her a more companionable hysteric. Leiferkus plays her long-suffering knight straight, with blunt humour; his strange meetings with supernatural traffickers – among them Pluzhnikov’s frighteningly coarse Mephistopheles – have all the vividness of scenes from Mussorgsky. That, of course, was part of Prokofiev’s point, and in this magnificent piece of Petersburg teamwork his most disturbing masterpiece returns decisively to the Russian tradition it so singularly follows David Nice