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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Naxos 8.555710
  • Alexander Nevsky *
  • Pushkiniana (compiled & edited by G. Rozdhestvensky, 1962)
  • Music to Shakespeare's Hamlet
  • Ivan the Terrible
* Irina Gelahova, mezzo-soprano
* Stanlavsky Chorus
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
Naxos 8.555710
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We need all the Nevskys we can get – this work still has not received a truly convincing recording, despite the two or three dozen efforts appearing in the catalog over the years. That said, it has rarely received a weak recording. This one by Dmitry Yablonsky does not change the situation.

I read with great interest colleague Robert Stumpf's review of this recording in the last update and fully understand his views. Yet, I also disagree with them. Yes, the first movement here is powerful, perhaps the best ever recorded. But the rest of Yablonsky's effort is also quite compelling. In fact, I would say the first four movements place this effort in a category by itself. The fifth, however, the crucial Battle on the Ice, is slightly disappointing. Yablonsky makes a good case for his faster tempo in the first half, but overall the first part comes across as rushed, with detail blurred, especially the choral shouts at the climatic section midway through. Better here is Svetlanov (Melodiya and other labels), Previn (Telarc and EMI), Ormandy (RCA) and maybe even Abbado (DG), who also takes this movement too fast. The Reiner (RCA) while quite decent, is a bit overrated.

The Field of the Dead here is well sung by Gelahova and quite moving overall, and the finale is brilliantly performed by the chorus, matched here only by the Svetlanov. On the whole then, this is one of the better Nevskys, and at Naxos' price, a splendid bargain. The fillers here make this an irresistible choice, especially for Prokofieff mavens. The Queen of Spades excerpts are première efforts, as far as I can determine, and while the other material may have appeared on previous recordings, it is hardly commonplace. Only the Ivan cue, Dance of the Oprichniks is well known, and here Yablonsky gives a splendid account of it, making you wonder how well he would do with the whole score.

The sound is excellent throughout, and the notes by Richard Whitehouse quite insightful. In sum, this is a fine release that still leaves room for a more powerful Nevsky.

Copyright © 2003, Robert Cummings

Trumpet