PROKOFIEV: Ivan the Terrible — Concert Scenario – Linda Finnie, contralto/Nikita Storojev, bass-baritone/Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi – Chandos

by | Jan 7, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

PROKOFIEV: Ivan the Terrible — Concert Scenario – Linda Finnie, contralto/Nikita Storojev, bass-baritone/Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi

Chandos CHAN 10536X, 59:14 [Distr. by Naxos] **** :

This sonicallyeffective restoration of the 1991 inscription by Neeme Jarvi provides a thirteen movement construction by Christopher Palmer of Prokofiev’s lengthy score for the Eisenstein two-part film shot in wartime Russia, 1942-1944. Ivan the Terrible instantiates the autocrat whose vision of a united Russia justifies whatever means must facilitate that dream, and so Ivan anticipates much of the ruthlessness in Josef Stalin. Moved by the kindred spirits of Wagner and Moussorgsky, Eisenstein and Prokofiev incorporate operatic techniques for the visual style of the film: choruses, liturgical processions, wedding songs, drinking songs, battle hymns, and various incidental episodes. The poet Vladimir Lugovskoy (1901-1957), the originator of the texts for Alexandre Nevsky, created the lyrics for this cinematic spectacle as well.

Several of the movements prove quite compelling, beginning with the stormy Overture and then Russian Sea, an evocation of the “manifest destiny” of extending Russian hegemony and expelling all foreign elements from the Motherland. The Wedding Chorus contains a lyricism reliant on Russian folksong and Rimsky-Korsakov, but no less on Moussorgsky’s own penchant for broad earthy melodies. The Fire movement introduces the Boyars, enemies of Ivan whose drum rolls pack a devastating bite. One of the most beautiful scenes and melodies arises from The Storming of Kazan, in which a leitmotif for the Russian steppe wafts with that elemental Russian grace and melancholy that makes Prokofiev immortal. The subsequent battle images recall Nevsky’s “Battle on the Ice,” certainly, but also scenes from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Maid of Pskov, Moussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov, and The Battle of Kershenetz from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Invisible City of Kitezh.

The Ivan’s Sickness movement provides a wonderful vehicle for the Philharmonia double basses, as the dying Ivan despairs over the Boyars’ refusal to acknowledge his son Dmitri as his heir. The Adagio yields, miraculously, to an Andante sostenuto portraying Ivan’s recovery to the sound of a wordless chorus of benediction. At the Polish Court invokes a polonaise quite close to that which we find in Moussorgsky’s Boris. Prince Kurbsky intrigues with King Sigismund of Poland to surrender the Russian army. A theme of deceit enters in Anastasia, a movement devoted to Ivan’s faithful wife, but infected with the plot of the scheming aunt Ephrosynia, who wishes her simpleton son Vladimir on the throne. In the Song of the Beaver Skin, the contralto’s lullaby degenerates into a kind of Medea’s dance of vengeance.

The Banquet featured Eisenstein’s use of color–for the first and last time–the musical rhythms reminiscent of the victory sequences from Nevsky, except that the context involves the oprichniki, Ivan’s personal assassins and progenitors of the modern KGB. The baritone’s drinking song is punctuated by rhythms one step away from Carl Orff, assisted by police whistles and the whizzing of flying hatchets. With the ironic reversal of Ephrosynia’s plot–wherein her son Vladimir dons the regal apparel that attracts the oprichniki to stab him in the cathedral–the inverted liturgy builds to an evil bass crescendo and cymbal crash, the Song of the Beaver Skin intoning the slaughter not of Tsar Ivan but the pretender. The brief Finale invokes Ivan’s return to Moscow for the sake of The People, who chant that “We shall not permit Russia to be harmed.”

Intelligent and aurally incisive, the performance attests to Neeme Jarvi’s enduring skills as a Prokofiev interpreter of dramatic and gripping power.

–Gary Lemco

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