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PROKOFIEV: Alexander Nevsky / Pushkiniana (Dmitry Yablonsky/ Irina Gelahova/ Lubov Doronina/ Russian State Symphony Orchestra/ Stanislavsky Chorus) (Naxos: 8.555710)


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Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)Alexander NevskyFrom his first mature stage-work, the opera The Gambler(1917), it was clear that Sergey Prokofiev had an innate feel for thecinematic. On his last visit to the United States in 1938 he studied thefilm-making techniques prevalent in Hollywood film studios, intending to adaptthem to Soviet films. Back in the Soviet Union, he was able to put his ideasinto practice when Sergey Eisenstein (1898-1948) asked him to collaborate onAlexander Nevsky. Work proceeded apace, the creative affinity between composerand director ensuring that the music for each sequence was written with aminimum of pre-planning or the need for re-editing.             Releasedin late 1938 this dramatization of the thirteenth-century conflict between theRussian people and Teutonic invaders struck a resounding chord in the SovietUnion at a time when war with Hitler's Germany seemed inevitable. The filmitself was acclaimed internationally as a masterpiece of cinema, and remains aclassic of the medium. In 1939, Prokofiev re-arranged the score as a cantatafor concert performance, in which form it was first performed in Moscow on 17thMay, soon establishing itself as one of the most popular choral works of thecentury.             Thecantata consists of seven sections, which follow the course of the film quiteclosely:I - Russia under the Mongol YokeThe weight of oppression is vividly evoked by cuttingstrings and plangent woodwind, intentional microphone distortion on theoriginal soundtrack ensuring a suitably harsh sound. II - Song about Alexander NevskyMale voices recall the massacre of Swedish soldiers on the banksof the River Neva, and the determination of the Russian people to defend theirhomeland against foreign invaders.III - The Crusaders in PskovThe chanting of the Teutonic knights invokes their subjugationof the Russian people, underlined by dissonant brass and, in the contrastingcentral section, supplicating strings. IV - Arise, ye Russian PeopleA defiant call-to-arms as the people prepare to defend theMotherland, offset by the gentler, expressive central section of remembrance.V - The Battle on the IceAfter the frozen wastes of the coming scene of battle havebeen pointedly evoked by strings, a tramping motion in lower strings and brassdepicts approaching Teutonic hordes. The Latin chanting returns, as do a numberof motifs heard earlier in the cantata, as in the original film-score. Brassfanfares from the preceding movement mark the Russian counter-attack, and ascherzo-like section, skilfully amalgamated from disparate fragments of thefilm-score, the mounting excitement of the battle. A pile-driving march episodedepicts the Russian victory and terrible loss of life, with a closing allusionto the Nevsky Song as calm descends on the carnage. VI - The Field of DeathThe emotional heart of film and cantata, a solitary woman,mezzo-soprano, wanders across the silent battlefield in search of her lover,commemorating the dead and apostrophizing the living. VII - Alexander's Entry into PskovThe Nevsky Song sounds out imperiously as the finale,depicting the hero's homecoming, ushers in a tableau of songs and dances, againrecalling earlier movements, in honour of Russia's glorious victory. The crashof tam-tams and peal of bells caps proceedings in appropriately triumphalmanner.            1937,the year after Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union for good, also marked twoimportant anniversaries: the 30th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution andthe centenary of the death of poet Alexander Pushkin. With the latter in mind,Prokofiev became involved in three major projects - stage adaptations of EugeneOnegin and Boris Godunov, and a film version of The Queen of Spades. In theevent, none of these projects was ever realized, but the composer - resourcefulas ever - re-used the music in a number of major compositions over the nextdecade. In the 1960s, as part of the wider rehabilitation of Prokofiev'soutput, the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky assembled a suite of movementsfrom these aborted projects under the title Pushkiniana.             Giventhat the film was never shot, it would be impossible to recreate the score forThe Queen of Spades in the way intended by Prokofiev. The extracts chosen byRozhdestvensky demonstrate the composer's empathy for the two main characters,Hermann and Liza - the one ominous and restless, the other elegant and wistful.These are followed by a Polonaise depicting the Ball Scene towards the climaxof the drama.             AsProkofiev recalled in his autobiography, it was the Eugene Onegin project thatmost interested him, but the production at the Moscow Chamber Theatre fellthrough by decree of the Committee for Artistic Affairs, the score remainingunheard in its entirety until a BBC broadcast in 1980. The extracts selectedand orchestrated by Rozhdestvensky are from the divertissement depicting theGrand Ball at the Larins: a gently-paced Menuet, a lively Polka with a moodiercentral section, and a Mazurka alternately engaging and yearning in manner.             Theinnovative music for Boris Godunov was shelved when the director, VsevolodMeyerhold, fell foul of the authorities, and remained unheard until a Moscowproduction in 1957. The Polonaise depicts the scheming Imposter during thefountain scene, in music which recalls similar set-pieces in the operas ofGlinka and Tchaikovsky.             Abetter fate awaited Prokofiev's incidental music to Radlov's production ofShakespeare's Hamlet, which opened in Leningrad on 15 May 1938. Of the tennumbers which comprise the score, The Ghost of Hamlet's Father evokes thepresence of the spirit in sombre, even wrathful terms.             Incomparison with the success of Alexander Nevsky, Prokofiev and Eisenstein'scollaboration on Ivan the Terrible was a failure. Part One of this historicalchronicle was released in January 1945, with Part Two following towards the endof that year. However, Stalin's growing paranoia as to the representation ofthe Czar he himself identified with proved fatal to the project, Part Threebeing left in fragments at Eisenstein's death. Dance of the Oprichniks is avivid depiction of the ruthless body guard which carries out Ivan's decrees tothe letter. Richard Whitehouse
Facts
Item number 8555710
Barcode 747313571024
Release date 01/05/2003
Category Choral Music | Classical Music
Label Naxos Classics | Naxos Records
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Artists Irina Gelahova
Composers Sergey Prokofiev
Conductors Dmitry Yablonsky
Orchestras Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Stanislavsky Chorus
Producers Lubov Doronina
Disc: 1
Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
1 I. Russia under the Mongolian Yoke
2 II. Song about Alexander Nevsky
3 III. The Crusaders in Pskov
4 IV. Arise, Ye Russian People
5 V. The Battle on the Ice
6 VI. The Field of Death
7 VII. Alexander's Entry into Pskov
Pushkiniana
8 Queen of Spades - Hermann
9 Queen of Spades - Liza
10 Queen of Spades - Ball (Polonaise)
11 Eugene Onegin (The Larin's Ball) - Menuet
12 Eugene Onegin - Polka
13 Eugene Onegin - Mazurka
14 Boris Godunov - (Polonaise, Scene at the Fountain)
Music to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Op. 77
15 Ghost of Hamlet's Father
Ivan the Terrible, Op. 116: Dance of the Oprichnik
16 Dance of the Oprichniks
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