The famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein held Prokofiev the film composer in the highest regard, and to couple their two celebrated collaborations, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky, in a two-disc set is therefore entirely appropriate. Ivan the Terrible, however, is a problematic score. Assembled by Abram Stassevich after the composer’s death, the oratorio lacks the large-scale balances and tensions of Prokofiev’s own Nevsky cantata, relying on narration to hold the structure together. This substantial English version by Michael Lankester, intended to ‘compensate for the lack of visual image’, is well projected by Christopher Plummer. Rostropovich directs a vivid performance of Alexander Nevsky, and only the rich tone of Russian voices is lacking. The LSO plays brilliantly, while the recording does full justice to one of Prokofiev’s finest scores.
Études are primarily intended as exercises to train musicians in specific techniques, but since the Romantic era they have become associated with other miniature forms, such as the prelude and the intermezzo, and frequently regarded as evocative character pieces or tonal pictures. Garrick Ohlsson's album of piano études by Claude Debussy, Sergey Prokofiev, and Béla Bartók offers a brief survey of the genre in modern practice, and demonstrates the blending of pedagogy and poetry in these works. Ohlsson has become internationally known as an exquisite interpreter of the music of Frédéric Chopin, and much of the subtlety and atmosphere found in his previous recordings is present here. Ohlsson's finesse and humor are perhaps most evident in Debussy's Études, L. 143, which have a lighter character than Prokofiev's Études, Op. 2, which tend toward the sardonic side, and Bartók's Études, Op. 18, which are intensely virtuosic and mysterious. Hyperion's recording captures the nuances of Ohlsson's playing, and the piano is close enough to hear every detail, while the acoustics lend it a pleasant natural aura.
Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has made some unorthodox recordings (check out her Vivaldi Four Seasons sometime), but here, in a work in which proportion and technique are exquisitely balanced, she plays it straight with impressive results. Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, composed in 1935 just before his return to the Soviet Union from France, has always been a popular repertory item, but Jansen's reading, ably accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, has a pearly quality throughout, a kind of bright ease, that comes only at the highest levels of technique.
Claudio Abbado was undeniably the supreme Mahler conductor of our time. With his Lucerne Festival Orchestra he has set new standards in the field of classical music, especially in the interpretation of works by Gustav Mahler. The core of the orchestra is provided by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, itself an élite body of players. Soloists like violinist Kolja Blacher, clarinettist Sabine Meyer, oboist Albrecht Mayer, violist Wolfram Christ, cellist Natalia Gutman, the Hagen Quartet and members of the Alban Berg Quartet to name just a few, make the Lucerne Festival Orchestra a star-studded ensemble.
This is the second release on ONYX from the amazing Moscow Soloists and their charismatic director, the great Yuri Bashmet. Their first ONYX release was of Chamber Symphonies by Shostakovich, Sviridov and Vainberg (ONYX4007) which gained excellent reviews, including a Grammy 2007 nomination. This disc combines two great Stravinsky works for strings: the marvellous neo-classical ballet Apollon musagète (in the revised 1947 version entitled simply Apollo) and the post-war Concerto in D for strings, with a genuine novelty: in 1962 Rudolf Barshai arranged for his own Moscow Chamber Orchestra 15 of the 20 Visions fugitives that Prokofiev wrote for solo piano between 1915-17. Now Roman Balashov, manager and violist in the Moscow Soloists has completed the set for this world première recording. These are exciting miniatures which truly benefit from the added colours a string orchestra can bring.