Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky / Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra

Release Date: 4/23/2009
Label: RCA
Catalog Number: RCA38296
Conductor: Eugene Ormandy
Number of Discs: 1

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Notes and Editorial Reviews
*** This title is a reissue of a Japanese release with liner notes in Japanese. ***

PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky. 1 RACHMANINOFF The Bells 2 Eugene Ormandy, cond; Philadelphia O; Phyllis Curtin (sop); 2 Betty Allen (mez); 1 George Shirley (ten); 2 Michael Devlin (bar); 2 Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia; 1 Temple University Ch 2 RCA-ArkivMusic 38296 (72:46)


Prokofiev may not immediately come to mind when thinking about Ormandy’s repertoire, but in fact his Prokofiev discography is substantial: all the symphonies save the Second and Third, including two versions each of the Fifth and Sixth; the Second and Fourth piano concertos; both violin concertos (with Isaac Stern); and the Scythian Suite , along with the usual suspects. This 1974–75 Alexander Nevsky , his second version, is a tour de force; Betty Allen is impressive (singing in Russian) in “The Field of the Dead,” and “The Battle on the Ice” is larger than life. The sound is among the best of the Ormandy RCAs, very immediate, with terrific bass response.


The Bells , recorded in 1973, isn’t quite as spectacular sounding; it’s as though the presence of soloists causes the pickup of the orchestra to lose immediacy. The work is sung in English, a retranslation of Balmont’s Russian. A Philadelphia specialty (Ormandy had first recorded it in 1954), it should have been a winner. But the real weak link is the soloists; George Shirley is fine, if not soaring, in the first movement, but Phyllis Curtin wobbles in the second, and in the remarkable final movement (with more lovely work by Rosenblatt) Michael Devlin uses a full operatic fortissimo regardless of the actual dynamic marking. Still, Ormandy is never less than authoritative in Rachmaninoff, and the Prokofiev is an absolute winner.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan

These are two very fine performances. Ormandy proves himself to be surprisingly exciting in Nevsky, particularly in the first half of The Battle on the Ice. Betty Allen's voice doesn't ever seem to have been beautiful, and her registers are uneven, but that small deficit aside, most listeners will find little to complain about. The last movement, with percussion well to the fore, is more cinematic than the actual film, though no one can pretend that these balances are in any way natural.

Always a terrific Rachmaninov conductor, and with a fine cast of soloists, Ormandy delivers a powerful performance of The Bells. Yes, the version used is the English re-translation of the Russian original, but the Temple University Choirs sing with amazingly clear diction, even in the wild "Alarm Bells" third movement. The engineering here is far more naturally balanced than in Nevsky, though as with most of the discs in this Japanese RCA series it could use a state-of-the-art remastering. Available "on demand" from Arkivmusic.com, and demand it you should.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
1. Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: Betty Allen (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Eugene Ormandy
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1938/1939 ; USSR
2. The Bells, Op. 35 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer: Phyllis Curtin (Soprano), George Shirley (Tenor), Michael Devlin (Bass Baritone)
Conductor: Eugene Ormandy
Period: Romantic
Written: 1913 ; Russia
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