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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Cantata "Alexander Nevsky" Op. 78 (1938)
  • Suite "Lieutenant Kijé" Op. 60 (1934)
Ewa Podleś, Mezzo-soprano
Latvian State Choir
Lille National Orchestra/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Naxos 8.557725
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Recorded live in concert in Lille, France on June 1, 1994, this Nevsky and Kijé were first released on Harmonia Mundi, probably the following year. Naxos, already with a fine Nevsky in its catalogue from Dmitry Yablonsky which I reviewed favorably about three years ago here at Classical Net, decided to acquire this older effort from Harmonia Mundi. I guess one can understand why: Casadesus' Nevsky is a fine one that was largely overlooked on its initial release. But like virtually all of the better versions of the work, it falls a bit short of greatness. On its plus side, Eva Podleś is excellent in the Field of The Dead, surpassing most, if not all, of her competition. The sound is excellent: too bad most studio recordings don't feature such vivid sonics. For a live recording from more than a decade ago, I have to say this is simply spectacularly recorded.

Moreover, Casadesus reads the score with consistent insight and his orchestra plays brilliantly, from the grim opening to the dark Crusaders in Pskov, to the powerful Battle on the Ice and finally to the triumphant closing panel, Alexander's Entry into Pskov. So what's wrong with this performance? Not much. It could be a bit more intense in places: the Battle on the Ice, for example, while good, could have a little more punch, and the opening, Russia under the Mongolian Yoke, a tad more darkness and foreboding. That said, this must be ranked among the finest recordings of the work. Other critics will disagree, if I can extrapolate from a sampling I've made recently and from sources of a decade ago. I'd rank this with the previous top contenders: Abbado (DG), the deleted Ormandy (RCA), the probably deleted Svetlanov (Melodiya and other labels), Previn (Telarc and, earlier, EMI), and maybe Järvi (Chandos). Even Naxos' other entry, the Yablonsky, is quite good and a contender in its own right.

As for the Kijé here, this light work gets a fine reading as well, but of course the competition in this piece is even deeper, with the 1950s Reiner/CSO (I've never been a great admirer of Reiner's Nevsky, though) a tough effort to surpass. The orchestra plays quite well in both works and the chorus, in the Nevsky, sings with flair and a good idiomatic sense, to boot. All in all, I'd rate this a fine disc, fully competitive with the better versions of both works. Enthusiastically recommended.

Copyright © 2006, Robert Cummings