CD Review: IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Prokofiev’s Original Motion Picture Score, Reconstructed)

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by Gregory Bernard on March 17, 2018



Ivan the Terrible, the second joint project of Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Prokofiev, is a two-part historical epic film, portraying the rise and fall of the autocratic ruler Ivan IV in the 16th century. Prokofiev’s musical portrayal is unique in film history, for the score conceives both parts of the film on a scale just as epic as the filmmaking. (Part I was released in 1944; however, Part II was not released until 1958, as it was banned on the order of Stalin, who became incensed over the depiction of Ivan; Part III was never completed.)

Prokofiev’s rich melodic invention thrives on the expressive sound palette of his native Russia, mostly as they echo the spiritual works of the Russian-orthodox liturgy. These film scores were not published during Prokofiev’s lifetime, and Prokofiev never got around to making a concert version. An arrangement — an oratorio for soloists, chorus, and orchestra — was completed by Levon Atovmyan, one of Prokofiev’s assistants, in 1961, a version which received its concert premiere in Moscow that same year. Since then, dozens of recordings — many including narration in Russian — have been recorded.

This, however, is the original, straight from the composer’s hands, receiving its world premiere recording. Conductor Frank Strobel gives us this faithful version of Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible music with every bit of vamp, interlude, and exit music. Strobel’s edition is really meant to accompany Eisenstein’s two-part cinematic magnum opus, which is why it runs almost two hours on two discs. In fact, Strobel premiered the score at the Musikfest Berlin in 2016 right after the studio sessions for the Capriccio label (see Vimeo clip below).

Comprehensive to a fault, you’ll get a lot of repetitive music more than a concert piece, but with alto Marina Prudenskaya and resounding bass Alexander Vinogradov adding a Muscovite richness to the proceedings, this is a hearty rendition. The liner notes are a bit confusing and overly laudatory, and the translation to English is almost unintelligible, but the score — a stunning mixture of Romantic, folk and Orthodox-church music — is a revelation.

Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible (reconstructed original motion picture score)
Berlin Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra | Frank Strobel, Conductor
2 discs | 116:55 | released February 2, 2018
available at Amazon and iTunes

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