Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sergei Prokofiev - Alexander Nevsky / Lieutenant Kijé Suite

1996; 12 tracks
Jean-Claude Casadesus; Lille National Orchestra

I love Prokofiev, but these two works are possibly the most intense and terrifyingly thrilling pieces of music he ever composed. They are... in a way... the most true and pure nationalistic pieces one could find in Soviet Russia, and perhaps even today. This album also features a new dimension to Prokofiev's complex array of composing styles - film music. Here:

The Alexander Nevsky cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78, performed by the Latvija Choir Academy, with Ewa Podles as the mezzo-soprano.

The Lieutenant Kijé Suite suite for orchestra, Op. 60, performed by the Lille National Orchestra under the baton of Jean-Claude Casadesus.

Alexander Nevsky was a hero in the 1200's who defeated the Swedish army and later won out against a large army of Germans. A film was made by Sergei Eisenstein as propaganda for an impending conflict between Russia and Germany, and Prokofiev became the composer of the music. After Russia and Germany settled their affairs, Prokofiev wrote a cantata from the film music for the concert stage. The work begins with a slow, cold, and icy introduction leading into the Russians singing about Nevsky's win over Sweden. The scene continues to the German invaders singing/chanting in Latin as they pillage. The fourth movement is a call of arms for Russia with a cheerful and imaginative folk-like hymn. The Battle on the Ice is the crux of the work, overlapping the German's latin theme with the Russian theme. Prokofiev also graphically depicts the approaching armies musically, all of which erupts in joyous celebration at the victory. Following the battle is a heartfelt alto solo of a peasant woman looking for the man (or men) she was engaged to marry. Of course, the whole work ends in a rousing Russian chorale. The music is varied and imaginative, (very Prokofiev), and is also seemingly steeped in the Russian folk idiom when the time is right. A dramatic and historically interesting work.

The Lieutenant Kijé Suite, another film score, is generally recognized as the one of the softest, lightest, and most ebullient of Prokofiev's works. It is very lively, engaging, and... Casadesus is a master at getting around these mammoth Russian scores.



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