Notes and Editorial Reviews
Prokofiev composed his adaptation of Tolstoy’s mighty War and Peace during World War II. In 1986, as the Cold War entered its final phase, the exiled Mstislav Rostropovich conducted this superb recording of the opera with his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, in the central role of Natalya Rostova. Rostropovich had been Prokofiev’s student and knew him well. “At the end of his life,” he wrote, “Prokofiev was obsessed with the hope that one day his greatest masterpiece, War and Peace, would triumph in its definitive form … Now I fervently hope that this recording will satisfy my old friend.”
Review excerpt from an earlier CD release:
Rostropovich, who writes that Prokofiev in his last illness begged him to make
War and Peace known and who first conducted it at the Bolshoi in 1970, gives a deeply committed performance of the work, securing outstandingly fine playing from the orchestra and excellent work from the chorus.
Among the numerous male roles, particularly noteworthy is Eduard Tumagian, who shows a splendidly steady, heroic tone, but also sensitive nuances, as Napoleon. Wieslaw Ochman portrays the romantic Pierre with warm, well-placed lyrical phrasing, Gedda is trenchant as the caddish voluptuary Anatol and Lajos Miller is the ill-starred Andrei, ardent in the initial scene in the moonlight and most moving in scene 13, where he effectively uses demi-voix to convey the dying man's delirium. Ghiuselev is magisterial, if not ideally clean, in the part of Marshal Kutuzov, and Malcolm Smith provides virile singing in the role of Denisov: many of the smaller parts are well taken (a pleasure to find Michel Senechal contributing a vivid character vignette as a fawning French doctor).
Maria Paunova, expressing indignation and sorrow at Anatol's attempted abduction of Natasha, also shows rather much vibrato: noteworthy among the ladies are Stefania Toczyska as the corrupt hedonist Helena and Mira Zakai as Andrei's hypocritical sister. But the only principal female role is that of Natasha. It would be unrealistic to expect Vishnevskaya (who sang the part in the 1959 premiere) to sound like a 16-year-old innocent, but I would have hoped for a less unvarying hard timbre from her—suitable for Natasha's frustration at the foiled elopement but much too loud in her soliloquy after Helena's wily pandering; and in the exchanges with Andrei's sister she makes no attempt (unlike Zakai) to differentiate between asides and normal conversation. Only on the few occasions when she sings quietly, with some indication of character, as when she reads Anatol's letter, does she really fulfill expectations.