Notes and Editorial Reviews
Acclaimed as a conducting genius in some quarters, Valery Gergiev has been an immensely effective musical director of the Kirov company. In nondramatic music he can seem less than electrifying, but this studio account of Ivan ranks with the best of his opera recordings. One cannot but be impressed by the enthusiastic contribution of Gergiev's 'other', Rotterdam orchestra, here sounding less refined than usual to match the 'authentic' if reduced-sounding vocal forces from the Kirov. Of course, recommending just one version for the collection is not easy when the work, rather like the film itself, does not exist in a definitive form. Part 1 of Eisenstein's masterpiece was released in 1946 to worldwide acclaim, although Stravinsky for one did
not care for its mix of iconography and melodrama. Prokofiev's health was so poor that he recommended that Gavriil Popov take over as composer for Part 2. Later he was able to resume work on the project — only to find it withheld from distribution. Soviet officials found its portrayal of Ivan's psychological decline too negative and, no doubt, too close to home. Which is not to say that Prokofiev intended to encode any criticism of Stalin in the notes. The film was released in the USSR in 1958 by which time plans to complete the trilogy had been abandoned, its prime movers long dead.
Prokofiev thought highly enough of the score to reuse sections of it, but he left no guidelines for presenting it in the concert-hall. Reshaping the music to fit a chronological narrative, Abram Stasevich fabricated the overlong oratorio we always used to hear and which Muti recorded to great effect some 20 years ago (EMI, 4/89). Christopher Palmer's solution for Jarvi was to dispense with the speaker altogether (Chandos, 11/91). More recently Rostropovich revived the melodramatic element in an edition by Michael Lankester which has Englishspeaking narration (Sony Classical, 4/93). Gergiev's version is based on Stasevich; only here the music (sometimes understandably thin) is left to fend for itself without the interpolated Russian texts.
Generally speaking, Rostropovich offers the broadest, most epic reading — his orchestra has power in reserve. On the other hand, Gergiev is sharper and tighter and most listeners will find him more exciting. The Russian choir and some notably forward timpani help him build the right atmosphere. The wide vibrato of his young mezzo is nothing if not authentic and there will be no complaints about the robust singing of Nikolai Putilin. The Dance of the Oprichnilcs, disappointing under Rostropovich, with the merrymaking overdubbed as if to acknowledge some lack of conviction, comes off better here, although the final chorus could be more fervently bell-capped. James Agee acclaimed the film as "A visual opera, with all of opera's proper disregard of prose-level reality" but if you want the music divorced from the images, Gergiev's account is among the most sheerly dramatic. Even if audiophiles hanker after Chandos's more generous soundstage for Jarvi, the characterful singing of what the booklet refers to at one point as the "Chorus of the Kirov Orchestra" gives the newcomer a definite edge.
-- Gramophone [2/1998]
reviewing the original release of this title, Philips 456645
Works on This Recording
Ivan the Terrible, Op. 116 by Sergei Prokofiev
Liubov Sokolova (Mezzo Soprano),
Nikolai Putilin (Baritone)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra,
Kirov Theater Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1942-1945; USSR
Date of Recording: 09/1996
Venue: De Doelen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Length: 64 Minutes 50 Secs.
Notes: This oratorio, based on Prokofiev's original film score, was arranged by Abram Stassevich in 1962.
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