San Sebastian: Ivan the Most Wonderful

SpainSpain S. Prokofiev, Ivan the Terrible: Soloists, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Orfeón Donostiarra, Yuri Temirkanov (conductor), Kursaal, San Sebastian, 27.8.2012 (JMI)

Soloists: Nikolay Burov, Ketevan Kemoklidze, Dmitri Lavrov

Detail from the poster for Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible, Part I

If the San Sebastian performances of The Magic Flute left much to be desired (S&H review here), the Donostia-San Sebastián Musical Fortnight scored a big success with this concert of Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible. The concert was all pleasant surprise and perfection.

available at Amazon
S.Prokofiev, Ivan the Terrible,
V.Gergiev / Rotterdam PO, Kirov Chorus
Decca / Philips

Sergei Prokofiev is one of the greatest Russian composers and his works have only gained in popularity over the past 20 years, to which the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and its last two musical directors—Yuri Temirkanov and incumbent Valery Gergiev—have contributed considerably.

Ivan the Terrible is the soundtrack that Prokofiev composed Sergei Eisenstein’s film of the same name; their second collaboration after Alexander Nevsky. But Stalin didn’t approve of Eisenstein’s view of Tsar Ivan the Terrible and of the intended three-partite film only the first part was shown at the time, the second part delayed until 1958, and the third part never made. After the film had come out—Prokofiev (and Stalin) were by now 8 years in the grave, Alexander Stasevich arranged the soundtrack as a cantata, which is the version that was presented at this.

The cantata is a great work, imbued with patriotic airs, splendidly ‘Prokofian’, with many a moment reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. It is divided into 25 numbers, requires a huge orchestra (over 110 musicians), a large choir, a narrator, and two vocal soloists.

All these requirements were met and bested at this concert. Yuri Temirkanov offered a masterful reading, conducting with a steady and firm  hand all  the numerous musical forces at his command. As the principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, he is at the helm of Russia’s oldest, and certainly one of the most prestigious, orchestras in the country. Happily, the public lapped up what the Petersburgers presented them. The most pleasant surprise of the night came courtesy of the Orfeón Donostiarra chorus, who offered a superlative performance. The singers, visibly enjoying themselves, were at their very best, from extraordinary pianissimos to grand tutti. The Orfeon’s director, Jose Antonio Sainz Alfaro, who did not take his bow, deserves the warmest congratulations. The noted actor Nikolay Burov served impressively as the narrator, mezzo-soprano Ketevan Kemoklidze and baritone Dmitry Lavrov were a good complement in their brief vocal presentations.

José Mª Irurzun