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Prokofiev - Alexander Nevsky; Scythian Suite

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Orchestra: Kirov Orchestra
  • Conductor: Valery Gergiev
  • Composer: Sergey Prokofiev
  • Audio CD (7 April 2003)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Philips
  • ASIN: B000089CDY
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 181,375 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Gergiev is a variable conductor, sometimes brilliant and sometimes routine; for me, this is an example of him in the latter mode. The cantata "Alexander Nevsky" is one of my favourite choral pieces; I own versions by Schippers and Abbado which for me set the standard. I also very much enjoy the full film score by Temirkanov. These three accounts reek atmosphere, whereas with Gergiev there is definitely something of the perfunctory and unsubtle about his reading: nuances and details go for nought, so there is a complete absence of the scalp-prickling anticipation which the prelude to the Battle on the Ice should create; Gergiev just blasts his way through the music aided and abetted by a rough, raucous Kirov choir.

The best thing here is the solo by Olga Borodina, whose lustrous, soulful mezzo and detailed Russian inflection of the text bid fair to rival the overwhelming pathos of Obratsova for Abbado. I find the supposedly inauthentic LSO chorus to have a far heftier tone and a more impassioned, less-strained command of the high tessitura of the choral part. In addition, I hear no advantage in immediacy resulting from this being a live recording; the whole thing is to me rather tame and just loud without the gradations of dynamics and pacing which distinguish a truly masterful interpretation.

Nor does the filler do much for me; the "Scythian Suite" is a youthful work, derivative of Stravinsky before Prokofiev discovered his own voice; it's noisy, showy and self-consciously "modern" in a manner which is proleptic of Gergiev's rendering of the cantata.

I part company here with other respected reviewers and a glance at the range of opinions in the reviews so far demonstrate that there is no consensus about it - so this is my response, for what it's worth; I remain far more convinced by Abbado, Schippers and Temirkanov - although I have yet to hear the much-lauded Svetlanov live account.
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Format: Audio CD
Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky Cantata has an interesting genesis. The great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein was an artist of no mean talent, and he sketched highly detailed "storyboards" of each planned scene in his films, a practice which he continued into the "talkie" era. Such was his admiration for the music of Prokofiev, that in 1937 he presented these sketches to Prokofiev with instructions to write music inspired by them, around which music he would construct his film. The resultant 1938 film has hardly any dialogue, concentrating instead in often starkly beautiful imagery, and is more than enhanced by the music score. The music had to be adapted post production, and there is a superb recording of the actual film score available under Temirkanov.
The concert piece that Prokofiev prepared can claim therefore to be an original work, not an adapted film score. Indeed, there is music in the cantata which does not feature in the film, most notably the depiction of the Knights sliding through the ice into the frozen lake, which is eerily silent in the film.
I love the story about the planned gala showing of the film in Moscow to visiting dignitaries from Nazi Germany, including von Ribbentrop. As the helmets of the Teutonic Infantry bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the Wehrmacht, and Eisenstein was Jewish, this was intended by Stalin as a "poke in the eye"
However, as to everyone's surprise Ribbentrop proposed and duly signed the infamous non-aggression pact, the film show was cancelled at the last minute and replaced by a performance of Die Walkure at the Bolshoi. In just a few years the film became a rousing paean of patriotism, and Eisenstein was awarded the Order of Stalin in 1941.
Read more ›
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By KaleHawkwood TOP 100 REVIEWER on 4 Oct. 2010
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
In the right mood, I only have to think of this recording and I`m itching to hear it again. An hour`s worth of excitement by a Proteus of 20th century classical music. You might not like everything Prokofiev composed - I don`t: the Classical symphony washes over me, and he wrote some unlistenable nationalistic tripe at the behest of the Soviet philistines in power at the time; he & Stalin died the same day in 1953, guess whose death was sidelined? - but he was never predictable and managed to marry modernism with melody. He has been rightly compared to Britten in this respect.
The main draw here is the Cantata, a suite Prokofiev made from his score for Eisenstein`s film Alexander Nevsky. It`s thrilling, often lyrical music, with Gergiev leading the Kirov Orchestra & Chorus (who sound glorious) in a committed performance, with the bonus of mezzo Olga Borodina`s richly authentic singing on the haunting section named Field of the Dead.
The early Scythian Suite is a jaggedly rhythmic joy. The sleeve-notes are a bit sniffy about it, comparing it unfavourably to Stravinsky`s slightly earlier ballet scores. (I`m always oddly surprised to realise that Stravinsky was nine years Prokofiev`s senior; but then he lived much longer too.) If you enjoy, say, the 1812 Overture, or Rite of Spring for that matter, then you may well like this. It`s the classical equivalent of heavy rock, and none the worse for that. Great fun!
Recorded at the first Moscow Easter Festival in 2002 (though one wouldn`t know it was live) this is a crisp & clear souvenir of what must have been a terrific concert.
Recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Robust Performances of 20th Century Classics !!! 11 Sept. 2010
By Oldog_Oltrix - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
OK, a crash course in Alexander Nevsky 101. It was written for the soundtrack of a magnificent 1938 film. There are two versions of the music, (1) performances of the movie soundtrack score and (2) performances of a cantata or suite that Prokofiev wrote summarizing the movie score. This CD has the cantata, not the complete score.

The Scythian Suite similarly is a summary of a ballet score that Prokofiev wrote in 1915. Bold and wild, it stunned audiences and brought ballet music critics kicking and screaming into the 20th century, along with the works of Stravinsky and others. It's a vivid and occasionally breathtaking ride!

There's no better choice for recording dramatic theatrical music than a world-class theatrical orchestra, and the Mariinsky (Kirov) is my choice for leader of the pack. Conductor Valery Gergiev is a razor-sharp interpreter of Prokofiev's theatrical works, and this is THE recording to own for state-of-the-art performances of both of Prokofiev's abbreviated compositions! The highly-regarded recordings of the 20th century sound a bit tired and dated compared to these presentations by Gergiev and his performers!

FWIW, for the complete movie score (not just the cantata) the Alexander Nevsky recording to own is the magnificent 1995 recording by Yuri Temirkinov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic! It's about as close to a live performance as I have ever experienced using my modest but carefully-selected sound system.

Interesting but not surprising that today's two finest Alexander Nevsky recordings should both come from the musicians of St. Petersburg.
5.0 out of 5 stars Must have CD for Prokofiev lovers. 13 Jun. 2016
By Michael Menkin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Excellent performances of both pieces of music.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The performances are OK, but not the sound 20 Nov. 2014
By John J. Puccio - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
A big, brawny, red-blooded Russian performance of the Scythian Suite and a relatively restrained but stately reading of Alexander Nevsky get undermined by sonics that might peel plaster at forty feet. By the time it was over, the album had fairly thrilled and almost deafened me at the same time. A bit frustrating, you know?

But let me start at the beginning. In its plainness, the disc cover is among the least attractive I've seen in years, and the packaging offers no track information until you dig into the accompanying booklet. So the packaging has already annoyed me before I even start to listen to the disc. Then, the program begins with the rather noisy Scythian Suite, which was Prokofiev's attempt in 1915 to out-Stravinsky Stravinsky. Scythian is a ballet in Prokofiev's early mode but with little of Stravinsky's subtlety. Gergiev and his Kirov players do what they can with it, and, indeed, it comes off with the combination of reflection and ferocity that the score deserves, whether you like it or not.

Finally, by track five we get to the star of the show, Alexander Nevsky, the cantata for mezzo-soprano, mixed chorus, and orchestra that Prokofiev wrote for the 1939 film of the same name by Sergei Eisenstein. The movie and the music celebrate the deeds of an ancient, thirteenth-century Russian warrior, leader, and folk hero.

The Nevsky music does credit to the legendary character with its colorful tone painting, its melting tragedy, and its ultimately uplifting spirit; and maestro Gergiev conveys most of it with a surprising nobility and control, if that's the kind of interpretation you're seeking. For me, Gergiev's rendition tends to lack the flair I was expecting (or hoping for). Still, if you're looking for a tamer, more deeply serious rendering of Prokofiev than usual, Gergiev may be your man.

But that sound. Philips recorded it live at the opening concert of the first Moscow Easter Festival, May 5, 2002, and maybe because they did it live did them in. While the stereo imaging is fine, if a bit close and constricted, the upper midrange and lower treble fairly toll the rafters, and with little compensating lower-octave response to offset it, it can be deadly. Unless your playback system is somewhat soft or dull to begin with, you may find yourself leaving the room with your ears ringing.

For years a direct rival to this disc has been a DG Originals release of the same material by Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony, which comes in at mid price. By comparison, Abbado's performance is marginally more sympathetic, more heartfelt, and more moving; and even better, the sound appears more naturally balanced, if somewhat artificially imaged. Nevertheless, if we were taking a vote, I'd definitely go with Abbado.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor
3.0 out of 5 stars Bland and monochrome - no "tingle factor" 11 Feb. 2013
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Gergiev is a variable conductor, sometimes brilliant and sometimes routine; for me, this is an example of him in the latter mode. The cantata "Alexander Nevsky" is one of my favourite choral pieces; I own versions by Schippers and Abbado which for me set the standard. I also very much enjoy the full film score by Temirkanov. These three accounts reek atmosphere, whereas with Gergiev there is definitely something of the perfunctory and unsubtle about his reading: nuances and details go for nought, so there is a complete absence of the scalp-prickling anticipation which the prelude to the Battle on the Ice should create; Gergiev just blasts his way through the music aided and abetted by a rough, raucous Kirov choir.

The best thing here is the solo by Olga Borodina, whose lustrous, soulful mezzo and detailed Russian inflection of the text bid fair to rival the overwhelming pathos of Obratsova for Abbado. I find the supposedly inauthentic LSO chorus to have a far heftier tone and a more impassioned, less-strained command of the high tessitura of the choral part. In addition, I hear no advantage in immediacy resulting from this being a live recording; the whole thing is to me rather tame and just loud without the gradations of dynamics and pacing which distinguish a truly masterful interpretation.

Nor does the filler do much for me; the "Scythian Suite" is a youthful work, derivative of Stravinsky before Prokofiev discovered his own voice; it's noisy, showy and self-consciously "modern" in a manner which is proleptic of Gergiev's rendering of the cantata.

I part company here with other respected reviewers and a glance at the range of opinions in the reviews so far demonstrate that there is no consensus about it - so this is my response, for what it's worth; I remain far more convinced by Abbado, Schippers and Temirkanov - although I have yet to hear the much-lauded Svetlanov live account.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gergiev is great in the Scythian Suite, but he bludgeons Nevsky mercilessly 7 Jun. 2009
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Nevsky teeters uneasily on the boundary between classical respectability and Hollywood vulgarity. Shostakovich, for one, thought Prokofiev had gone too far in being loud, bombastic, and obvious. Frankly, I think that the performances which go all out for bombastic fun are the best. But Gergiev, as part of his long-term mission to make Prokofiev into a unassailably great composer, is serious to a fault, hammering home the significance of Nevsky with a bludgeon. Everything about the performance strains to the max: the solo tuba is bigger than all outdoors, the tenors in the chorus threaten to shred their vocal cords, the percussion try to bring down the walls of Jericho. It's spectacle, all right, but a headache is never far off.

The substantial filler, the Scythian Suite, receives exactly the opposite treatment. Gergiev treats it like great music, which by definition has color, nuance, variety, and emotional meaning. Often this score is played like a second-rate assault on the Rite of Spring's barbarism. Gergiev gives the music its own special character, and the results are beautiful, abetted by excellent sound and gorgeous playing form the Kirov Orch.

I will stick with my two favorite Nevskys from Temirkanov and Stokowski, but if I want to hear the Scythian Suite at its best, this is a CD I'll return to.
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