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<<  -- 2 --  David Thompson    AN IMPOSING START


In the second half we were subjected to some Russian choral music in the scissors-and-paste 'Cantata' that Abram Stassevich put together from Prokofiev's score to Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible. Considered as a whole, the seams do show, somewhat, especially when, as here, cuts were made in the interests of brevity. But that was a small price to pay for an hour of rarely performed top-drawer Prokofiev, enthusiastically delivered by the kind of vast forces the Royal Albert Hall serves so well. Not the most obvious choice of First Night piece, perhaps, but an entirely appropriate one in the event.

Simon Russell Beale was allotted the task of keeping us on track with the story, giving us a narration in English. His dark and splendid speaking voice was both a boon and a welcome bonus.

The combined forces of the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC National Chorus of Wales did sterling and inspiring work. The men, in particular, relished the stentorian shouts that were sometimes required, but one marvelled at the sheer variety and creative genius of Prokofiev's writing for chorus, from breathtakingly beautiful pianissimo to the full cry required of the First Night. Only one or two cruelly exposed entries betrayed any sense of hesitancy in what was, overall a splendid handling of the choral passages by all concerned.

If that were not enough, the proceedings were graced by two excellent soloists. Irina Tschtyakova looked and sounded resplendent, and with her most Russian of voices, resonant and with unashamed vibrato delivered her part to the manner born. The haunting eighth movement, 'the Song of the Beaver' was a highlight of the evening. James Rutherford, a young English bass-baritone, was totally unfazed by his lack of Russian blood, and relished his irresistible song-and-dance number with the Chorus, 'Fyodor Basmonov's Song'. This was one of those spine-tingling tub-thumps that Karl Orff might have written. That he did not, and Prokofiev did was an added bonus. One felt a twinge of shame that such a (literally) bloody text should yield such uninhibited enjoyment. A rag-bag of bits and pieces this work may have been, but what bits, and what pieces!

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Copyright © 29 July 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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