WORKS: Zdravitsa; Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (first version); Ode to Joy
PERFORMER: Alla Ardakov (soprano), Ludmilla Schemtchuk (contralto), Alexandre Naoumenko (tenor), Dimitri Kharitonov (bass); Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic & Choir/Derek Gleeson
CATALOGUE NO: 30366 00122 DDD
This is an issue enterprising enough to do without its misinformed hype. To set the record straight, none of the three works has ‘lain unpublished and unknown to the public’. Prokofiev’s Zdravitsa was printed in 1947 and vividly championed by Svetlanov in its post-Stalin reincarnation (a recording available until recently on a Chant du Monde CD). Tchaikovsky’s graduation cantata and the first version of Romeo and Juliet both appeared in the Moscow Tchaikovsky edition; there were two Melodiya LP versions of the cantata, and Geoffrey Simon’s recording of the original fantasy overture is still there on Chandos.
Derek Gleeson seems determined to make his mark: he wrings every inch of pathos out of Prokofiev’s enigmatically soulful big tune and tries (without much success, it must be said) to whip up excitement in the noisier passages of the cantata. The assembled choirs, hardly the genuine full-throated Russian article, sound happier with Zdravitsa – even if the sopranos don’t get to sing ‘Stalin’ on a top C for the last eight bars, as in the original – than with Tchaikovsky’s fitfully inventive Ode, featuring a mismatched solo quartet.
A certain rigidity in Romeo and Juliet only highlights Tchaikovsky’s genius in finding a better musical subject for Friar Laurence and tightening up the dramatic structure a year later. David Nice