Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky; Scythian Suite

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Alexander Nevsky; Scythian Suite
PERFORMER: Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano); Kirov Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 473 600-2
Bad luck on Naxos, which having just advertised its new Nevsky as ‘the only one in the UK to be performed entirely by Russian forces’ now faces high-class, though admittedly full-price competition from Gergiev and his Kirov crew. Yablonsky is an interesting conductor, and freed from the need to synchronise with Eisenstein’s film images, plays fast and loose with the tempi of Prokofiev’s carefully reassembled cantata. He begins well, with a canvas of devastation that’s more atmospheric and, in its hairpin stabs and retreats, more scrupulous to the letter of Prokofiev’s score than Gergiev’s. He speeds, though, through the patriotic battle-song and starts the enemy charge across the ice much too fast; Gergiev, like Neeme Järvi on the even more climactic Chandos recording, is idiosyncratic master here of the slow burn and subjects his rock-solid choral ‘enemy’ to an exhilaratingly clear orchestral assault. Finally sinking the Naxos army are the weedy strings and the execrable pitching of the tenors in a chorus that sounds none too substantial (up-front miking does at least allow for the words to be heard). The Philips recording sounds free from recent post-production tamperings, though Olga Borodina’s handsome mourner hovers in space (Yablonsky’s Irina Gelakhova fits the bill almost as well).

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For the youthful terrors of the Scythian Suite, Gergiev gives melodic outlines a helping hand with a heavy objectivity at odds with Rattle or Boulez (and an extraordinary tenuto on the final brass snarl of the second-movement rumpus). Yablonsky presents a piquant side-table of tapas from Prokofiev’s Soviet stage and screen projects before and after Nevsky; especially welcome to CD for the first time are Rozhdestvensky’s composite portraits assembled from Prokofiev’s haunting Queen of Spades numbers. David Nice