WORKS: Ivan the Terrible; Alexander Nevsky
PERFORMER: Christopher Plummer (narrator), Tamara Sinyavskaya, Sergei Leiferkus, Dolora Zajick New London Children’s Choir, LSO & Chorus/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: S2K 48 387 DDD
The famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein held Prokofiev the film composer in the highest regard, and to couple their two celebrated collaborations, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky, in a two-disc set is therefore entirely appropriate.
Ivan the Terrible, however, is a problematic score. Assembled by Abram Stassevich after the composer’s death, the oratorio lacks the large-scale balances and tensions of Prokofiev’s own Nevsky cantata, relying on narration to hold the structure together. This substantial English version by Michael Lankester, intended to ‘compensate for the lack of visual image’, is well projected by Christopher Plummer. The words do tend to dominate the music, excellently performed though it is, whereas in Neeme Järvi’s Chandos recording (CHAN 8977) Christopher Palmer’s ‘performing version’ is used, which ‘eliminates the speaker and the shorter sections… pastiche-liturgical music of minimal Prokofiev interest’. That, then, is the choice, and it makes for a difference of some 30 minutes. On balance, I’d opt for the Järvi.
Rostropovich directs a vivid performance of Alexander Nevsky, and only the rich tone of Russian voices is lacking. The LSO plays brilliantly, while the recording does full justice to one of Prokofiev’s finest scores. Terry Barfoot