PROKOFIEV: Ivan the Terrible (Complete music for Eisenstein's film)
Irina Chistjakova, contralto; Dmitry Stephanovich, bass; The Yurlov State Capella; Children's Choir of Studio Vesna; Tchaikovsky Symphony  Orch/Vladimir Fedoseyev, cond.

NIMBUS  NI 5662 (2 CDs) (F) (DDD) TT:  1 hr. 39 min.


Prokofiev's score for Eisenstein's 1939 film Alexander Nevsky has long enjoyed a cultic or almost star status among concertgoers and record collectors. So has the 1939 cantata based on the film score. That same popularity has eluded Prokofiev's score for Ivan the Terrible. That may change with this world premiere recording comprising part 1 (1943) and part 2 (1946) plus appropriate Russian Orthodox liturgical music interspersed for dramatic and narrative reasons. There's a lot of music to assimilate and savor --38 different scenes in part 1 covering such events as Ivan's coronation, wedding, his illness, the death of his Anatasia and 17 more scenes in part 2 culminating in Ivan' triumph over internal strife. For the most manageable approach to this epic music drama, read the synopses and brief summaries of each section before listening. Then, while following the order of scenes (a libretto is NOT included), let yourself be seduced by Prokofiev's sensuous and mesmerizing music. And there's everything in Prokofiev's tonal and harmonic treasury to persuade and challenge the most discriminative listener.

The problem -- what to single out. Perhaps the powerful orchestration defining Anastasia's illness. Or, by contrast, the contemplative "Cherubim Song."  As regards orchestral brilliance, both the "Coronation Scene" and the rapid-fire brass and percussive barrage (leading the Tartar attack) are awesome. There are no big arias or memorable tunes. In fact, the solos, superbly sung by bass Dmitry Stephanovich and contralto Irina Chistjakova, are incidental, brief and basically set up the ongoing action. Kudos to the fine Tchaikovsy Symphony Orchestra and Yurlov State Capella conducted Sympathetically by Vladimir Fedoseyev. Resonant, rich recorded sound.

Highly recommended.

K.S. (Nov. 2000)