Notes and Editorial Reviews
At last, a workable, gripping concert version of Prokofiev's Ivan score, minus the hectoring narration and debilitating fragmentation of Abram Stasevich's 'oratorio' version (see the Muti recording on EMI, listed above). We can thank Christopher Palmer for the initiative—and for the customary skill with which he has carried through the enterprise. The wonder is that music which so mysteriously passed me by and whose impact was so minimized in the diffuse Stasevich version, is here thrown into such dramatic relief. There is a muskal narrative now, a viable structure, a sense of impetus; Palmer has dispensed with the more fragmentary episodes and largely restored chronological sequencing. Excellent though the Muti undoubtedly is, how often is
one really prepared to wade through acres of spoken text only to encounter the score piecemeal? Here then are those amazing images once more—as clear and as memorable as if they were up there on the screen: the stormy skies of the opening credits in the torrential strings and ringing brass, the wedding of Ivan and Anastasia blessed with two haunting folk-songs (original Prokofiev but more authentic than authentic), the burning of Moscow with its riot of Prokofiev's distinctive percussion—the stuttering side drum, wood-block and xylophone. The "Storming of Kazan" is Palmer's centrepiece, the primitive rasp of brutish solo tuba setting the scene, a distant chorus emerging unforgettably with the great Kutuzov theme from War and Peace—a sombre and moving prelude to the explosive final battle. Then there is "Ivan's Sickness", his despair at the fate of his throne voiced high in the string basses, like old voices from the old world; the loutish whistling of the oprichniki ("The Banquet") never fails to chill the blood; and the climactic "Murder in the Cathedral" with its curdled, tension-building chanting, is rightly described by Palmer as "one of the most electrifying moments in film music". All in all, then, a triumph of reorganization and a new lease of life for Prokofiev's score. Muti may have the edge over Jarvi in one or two isolated instances, but the format works greatly in the latter's favour. The Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus assume their best and boldest Slavic colours, Linda Finnie likewise has the vibrant ring of authenticity in her malevolent "Song of the Beaver", and Chandos contribute hugely to the atmosphere building with a recording that is unequivocally wide-screen.
E.S., Gramophone [11/1991]
Review of original release, Chandos 8977
Works on This Recording
Ivan the Terrible, Op. 116 by Sergei Prokofiev
Linda Finnie (Mezzo Soprano),
Nikolai Storojev (Bass)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1942-1945; USSR
Length: 55 Minutes 40 Secs.
Notes: Arranged: Christopher Palmer
: Richard Farnes.
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