LABELS: RCA Victor Living Stereo
WORKS: Alexander Nevsky
PERFORMER: Rosalind Elias (mezzo-soprano), Leonid Kogan (violin); Chicago SO & Chorus/Fritz Reiner, Boston SO/Pierre Monteux
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63708 2 ADD Reissue (1959, 1958)
Reiner’s Alexander Nevsky ought to have been something special. And in one or two moments – such as the climax of ‘The Battle on the Ice’, or the super-cold opening of ‘Russia under the Mongolian Yoke’ – it does manage to raise a tingle or two. But too much of the rest is downbeat or even laboured. Listening to ‘Arise, Ye Russian People’, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaping to their feet – or even tapping their fingers listlessly. The biggest problem is the chorus. Intonation tends to be flattish, enthusiasm not much higher. Mind you, the English translation it sings would be likely to dampen most choirs’ enthusiasm, and unfortunately the brightly attentive recording ensures we hear most of it. This piece needs the sound of Russian vowels and consonants as a complement to Prokofiev’s magically pungent orchestration. Neeme Järvi’s magnificent Chandos recording remains unrivalled.
Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto may be lightweight in comparison, but Leonid Kogan makes a good deal of it. The clarity and focused intensity are impressive, though I missed the emotional generosity and fun of the 1954 Oistrakh recording – and after all, the Concerto was written with Oistrakh’s playing in mind. Stephen Johnson