The famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein held Prokofiev the film composer in the highest regard, and to couple their two celebrated collaborations, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky, in a two-disc set is therefore entirely appropriate. Ivan the Terrible, however, is a problematic score. Assembled by Abram Stassevich after the composer’s death, the oratorio lacks the large-scale balances and tensions of Prokofiev’s own Nevsky cantata, relying on narration to hold the structure together. This substantial English version by Michael Lankester, intended to ‘compensate for the lack of visual image’, is well projected by Christopher Plummer. Rostropovich directs a vivid performance of Alexander Nevsky, and only the rich tone of Russian voices is lacking. The LSO plays brilliantly, while the recording does full justice to one of Prokofiev’s finest scores.
Following the successful publication on Cappriccio of all Shostakovich’s symphonies on CD, Dmitrij Kitajenko once again collaborates with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln to perform the complete recording of all of Sergey Prokofiev’s seven symphonies. Together they embark on a very challenging project, both in terms of time and level of technical difficulty, a project that demanded huge efforts and potential from the orchestra conductor alike. Prokofiev’s symphonies could not be more varied. They were written at different times throughout the composer’s life and each one individually reflects the pressure of political dictatorship and forced submission to merciless censorship that was prevalent throughout the Soviet-era. On the other hand, the huge energy, the hopes and desires, emotional and social messages conveyed between the lines could not be vanquished even by dictators and censors.
This is a fine recording of two vastly under-appreciated works by young cello virtuoso Han-Na Chang. She has the extraordinary technique to play the excruciatingly difficult cadenza in the central movement of the Sinfonia Concertante and the sustained tone to play the long, lyrical melodies in the opening movement of the cello sonata. Antonio Pappano is a faithful accompanist whether he's directing the London Symphony Orchestra in the Sinfonia Concertante or playing the piano in the cello sonata.
Chandos’s previous Prokofiev series, recorded in the 80s with Neëme Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, is still probably the most recommendable complete cycle available. Chandos now seem to feel the need to start again, the reason possibly being that they are now using ‘authentically’ all-Russian forces. Whatever the company’s motivation (or if indeed it is to be a complete cycle), the results are impressively powerful, and the coupling stimulating and generous.
This CD's title, Messe Noire, and its dark cover art may mislead some into thinking this album is filled with evil, forbidden things; but the only selection that suggests the diabolical is Alexander Scriabin's macabre Sonata No. 9, "Black Mass," and it comes at the very end, after Igor Stravinsky's light, neo-Classical Serenade in A, Dmitry Shostakovich's sardonic Sonata No. 2, and Sergey Prokofiev's witty but brutal knuckle-buster, the Sonata No. 7, which all have their dark moments, certainly, but not the same sinister mood found in Scriabin. If pianist Aleksei Lubimov's aim in bringing these Russian masterworks together points to some other unifying idea – perhaps the significance of the piano in these composers' thinking – then some other title might have been more helpful. As it is, though, this album seems most unified in Lubimov's vigorous style of playing, brittle execution, and emphasis on the piano's percussive sonorities, evident in each performance. This spiky approach works best in Prokofiev's sonata, and fairly well in Shostakovich's and Stravinsky's pieces; but it seems too sterile in Scriabin's music, which needs more languor and sensuous writhing than clarity or crispness.
Captured in the Maly Hall of the Moscow Conservatory where much of Prokofiev's work was first heard, it's surprising to find so many aspects of the composer's style represented, from the Romanticism of the early Ballade through the spiky dissonances of Chout to the elegiac, unfinished Solo Sonata. Aided by characterful piano-playing by Tatyana Lazareva, Ivashkin's recital compares most favourably with his similar programme on Ode for which he was accompanied by a more reticent pianist; although the earlier disc includes the Concertino movement in the guise of Rostropovich's cello quintet arrangement, the absence of the Chout transmogrification makes the Chandos collection appear better value.
This new recording (recorded in 2012) brings together two great, but altogether different 20th century Cello Sonatas from Russia: the gorgeous and deeply romantic cello sonata by Rachmaninoff, of near‐symphonic proportions, and the cello sonata by Prokofiev, a hybrid piece of his later period, a fascinating mixture of the romantic, the grotesque and the introspective side of the multi-faceted composer.
…Overall, I find this a must-have and a stunning interpretation regardless of whether it's an SACD or not. Lovers of this piece should not hesitate to get this. The SACD has 27 tracks and is about 55 min long. The interpretation is exciting, flexible, and lithe, and that's all anyone could ask for in a Prokofiev piece as great as this. That I'm inspired to watch the movie again is a testament to the performance and the movie because, to me, it's so hard to separate the two.