Performer: Claudine Carlson
Orchestra: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Leonard Slatkin
Composer: Sergey Prokofiev
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
Size: 249 MB
01. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 1. Russia Under the Mongolian Years
02. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 2. Song About Alexander Nevsky
03. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 3. The Crusaders in Pskov
04. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 4. Arise, Ye Russian People
05. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 5. The Battle On The Ice
06. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 6. The Field Of the Dead
07. Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78: 7. Alexander’s Entry into Pskov
08. Lieutenant Kijé, film score and suite for orchestra, Op. 60: 1. The Birth of Kijé
09. Lieutenant Kijé, film score and suite for orchestra, Op. 60: 2. Romance
10. Lieutenant Kijé, film score and suite for orchestra, Op. 60: 3. Kijé’s Wedding
11. Lieutenant Kijé, film score and suite for orchestra, Op. 60: 4. Troika
12. Lieutenant Kijé, film score and suite for orchestra, Op. 60: 5. The Burial of Kijé
Excellent Recording of Two Prokofiev Masterpieces!
This hybrid SACD from the audiophile Mobile Fidelity label is a kind of enhanced reissue of an original Vox recording, but before going into technical details let me comment on the music.
Most readers will likely be at least somewhat familiar with the pieces here. The Alexander Nevsky cantata was created by Prokofiev from the film score he wrote in 1938 for Sergei Eisenstein’s biographical epic about Alexander Nevsky (1220-63), Grand Duke of Vladimir and early Russian national hero. Although the original sound track exhibited severe distortion and a pinched frequency range, subsequent performances–both of the film score and of this cantata–by several fine groups do greater justice to the music, which Valery Gergiev has called “the best ever composed for the cinema.” The seven movements offer a sweeping, evocative, and unforgettable sound picture of early Russia.
Prokofiev’s initial foray into film music composition dated to 1933, when he wrote the score for Lieutenant Kijé, Fainzimmer’s film based on Yury Tynyanov’s satirical novella about a fictional incident during the reign of Emperor Paul I in which a clerical error resulted in the creation, on paper only, of a lieutenant in the Royal Guard. As the Emperor alternatively punished, rewarded, promoted, and even married off the non-existent lieutenant, his court and military staff scurried to appear to comply with his orders. When at length he commanded the presence of Kijé before him, the staff contrived to have the soldier become ill and die, causing the sorrowful Emperor to order up a full dress military funeral for the now-General Kijé. This music is much lighter fare than that for Nevsky, but is equally fine in creatively delineating character and mood. Though the film sound track again is of poor quality, Prokofiev composed the Lieutenant Kijé: Symphonic Suite, Opus 60, the following year to present the music in a much-improved stand-alone version. It is that suite, made up of five movements, which has become a cherished staple of the repertoire and which Slatkin and the St. Louis forces present here.
The performances are very good indeed. Leonard Slatkin does a laudable job of extracting the loveliness inherent in the scores from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists, and communicating it affectingly to the listener. The richly imaginative orchestral and choral timbres, textures, and moods are clearly revealed for our delectation. Mezzo-soprano Claudine Carlson and bass-baritone Arnold Voketaitis, both possessed of fine voices, sing their songs of varying mood and character beautifully. All singing is in Russian, which I think helps to convey the essential ethnicity of the music.
The liner notes are very good and quite detailed, providing English translations for the songs and choruses of the Nevsky cantata, though not the two Kijé songs.
Technical note: The original Vox recordings were analog, but their quality was obviously very good. To make this SACD the Mobile Fidelity engineers employed their GAIN 2 system–a specially built ultra-high fidelity tape player designed to extract every bit of musical content from the original tapes with an absolute minimum of any kind of error or distortion. The resulting audio signal was re-recorded via the super quality DSD process specified for SACDs. (I haven’t been able to make direct sonic comparisons among the 1979 Vox LP, the subsequent Vox CD, and the present SACD, but I should hope there would be a noticeable difference in favor of the SACD.)
Although there are a few original SACD recordings of this music (individually or jointly) and several digital CDs by reputable orchestras to compete with it, I believe this SACD holds up very well. The usually omitted though originally scored singing on two movements of the Kijé suite, is a welcome inclusion here. The interpretations and performances leave little to be desired, and much to admire. Hence I recommend serious consideration of this disk by those seeking to acquire an outstanding recording of this superlative music.