Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible (complete film score)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Ivan the Terrible (complete film score)
PERFORMER: Irina Chistiakova (contralto), Dmitri Stephanovich (bass); Children’s Choir of Studio Vesna, Yurlov State Capella, Tchaikovsky SO/Vladimir Fedoseyev
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5662-63
This is a flawed but useful companion to a major work of scholarship – the Glinka State Museum’s special performing edition of Prokofiev’s original score for Eisenstein’s last masterpiece Ivan the Terrible. Prokofiev would not have regarded the result as a suitable concert version, and unfortunately failed to leave one of his own. That task eventually fell to Abram Stasevich, whose generous if over-stacked ‘oratorio’ has been thrillingly recorded by Muti (EMI) and Gergiev (Philips). Listening to Fedoseyev’s balder sequence of numbers as Prokofiev first composed them, we can see how Stasevich made idiomatic symphonic composites out of such sequences as Ivan’s march on Kazan.

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Orchestrally, this is a curiously metronomic performance which reveals some fresh original orchestrations but no significant new ideas. The novelty falls to the choir, singing all the liturgical music collected by Prokofiev and Eisenstein. It does restore the film’s insistence on church tradition; but some pieces – like Kastalsky’s arrangement of the ‘Cherubic Song’ – are too long in context and the women’s intonation is often dismally flat (how, incidentally, does the second of two D minor pieces come to begin in C sharp minor?). Nor is the seriousness of the project consistent: whose crazy idea was it to interrupt the climactic ‘murder in the cathedral sequence’ with an orchestral reprise of the Oprichnik’s song? To hear that particular musical cornerstone intact, Järvi’s bracing performance of Christopher Palmer’s variations on Stasevich (Chandos) is the sole candidate; otherwise Fedoseyev, however correct, offers little of Muti’s or Gergiev’s electricity. Three stars, all the same, for enterprise. David Nice