Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky; Lieutenant Kijé

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Alexander Nevsky; Lieutenant Kijé
PERFORMER: Ewa Podles (mezzo-soprano)Latvia State Academic Chorus, National Orchestra of Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
‘In our mighty native Russia no foe shall live’: hardly sentiments for a Latvian choir to take enthusiastically on board, but it’s still disappointing to hear Prokofiev’s great song – the ‘hit number’ of Alexander Nevsky – so flatly sung by the altos. Nor does this wilfully inexpressive choir make much of the enemy’s threatening nonsense-Latin chants – a far cry indeed from the Slavonic resonances of the Yourlov Ensemble on the classic Svetlanov Nevsky issued not so long ago by the same company. At least the other centre of gravity, the song of the Russian girl on the field of the dead, has a more startling impact, although it won’t be to all tastes: mezzo Ewa Podles conveys withdrawn grief through cavernous, oddly countertenorish tones. Casadesus’s Lille orchestra (collaborating with the Latvians, presumably, in the face of France’s poor choral track record) projects the steelier timbres of Prokofiev’s score with assurance and sophistication (though I don’t hear the first trumpet’s all-important rhythm in ‘The Crusaders in Pskov’). Kijé is better still – deft characterisation, polished orchestral solos. Both live performances are lucky to be served by a full, truthful recording – the real star of the show. David Nice