Prokofiev arr. Stasevich
Ivan the Terrible, Op.116 concert oratorio
Simon Russell Beale (narrator)
Irina Tchistyakova (mezzo-soprano)
James Rutherford (bass-baritone)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Recorded on 18 July 2003 in the Royal Albert Hall, London
Reviewed by: Paul Pritchard
Reviewed: August 2004
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS
Duration: 63 minutes
For two summer months each year there really is no escaping the Proms, even if one never gets to the Royal Albert Hall. The concerts are live on radio (and repeated), sometimes live on TV (and repeated), and on-line. Quantity and quality don’t always correspond, of course. Yet what a goldmine the Proms archive is. With careful sifting some back-catalogue performances of real significance could be given permanent status. Warner Classics has issued five CDs from Proms 2003, and it seems that choices from the current season will follow suit.
This performance of Ivan the Terrible opened the 2003 season, Prokofiev’s fine score for Eisenstein’s epic film, heard in the most-familiar version, that by the soundtrack’s conductor Abram Stasevich (spelt Stassevich in Warner’s presentation). Other ‘editions’ exist, as conducted by Gergiev, Rostropovich and Fedoseyev, which don’t necessarily employ a narrator and which have different choices of music. Riccardo Muti and Neeme Järvi have recorded the ‘standard’ Stasevich compilation too, as has Leonard Slatkin (some years ago for Vox). He makes a few insignificant cuts, and having the narration in English really helps the listener’s involvement.
The BBC recording is impressive in its space and impact, and the balance is first-class – one really appreciates the mass of performers that are heard so tangibly in a suitably large space. Simon Russell Beale avoids, for the most part, ‘acting’ the narrator’s role, and brings just enough theatre and variety to his task. Slatkin’s conducting is similarly equable; he conducts with skill and insight, his care and affection for the music is evident throughout. The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays with care, responding faithfully to the conductor’s vivid appreciation of Prokofiev’s stylistic hallmarks, not least how important it is that the bass frequencies of the orchestra are clarified and made articulate.
The combined chorus makes a thrilling sound; more remarkably, given the numbers, the quiet singing has an intensity that is gripping. Both soloists are fine, too, thoroughly immersed, but what really impresses is Slatkin’s symphonic approach to the score; he avoids spurious bombast and over-projection, and his long-term sense of resolution makes for very satisfying listening. The booklet note is detailed and helpful, and the text is included.