Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky - Ormandy
Dutton CDLX 7362
Classical - Vocal
Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky*, Lieutenant Kijé Suite^
Betty Allen* (mezzo)
The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia*
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy (conductor)
Review by John Broggio - October 20, 2018
Musically, this is first rate but suffers from some distortion on loud, high trumpet notes.
Compared to Abbado's celebrated account (no hi-res issue to date), Ormandy is a tiny bit more urgent throughout; only in the third movement (The Crusaders in Pskov) is Ormandy a little more relaxed but generally, tempo choices are fairly similar. The hi-resolution medium allows for detail to be heard clearly, without congestion which is no small achievement in this music. With the exception of loud, high trumpet notes (a fault of the tapes not the playing), The Philadelphia Orchestra are a joy to the ear and their commitment is matched by The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Betty Allen's account is dramatic but perhaps without the same degree of Slavic bite that Elena Obraztsova gives Abbado. All in all, Ormandy gives a tremendously powerful account of Alexander Nevsky.
Lieutenant Kijé is played equally well with, mercifully, the distortion that blighted some of the more involved high trumpet playing in Alexander Nevsky is absent here. After a wonderfully withdrawn Birth of Kijé, the Romance blossoms naturally as it "steps forward" aurally. The Wedding & Troika are as ebullient as one could wish - there's a real sense of unbuttoned playing here; the concluding burial is suitably poignant and here the dynamic range really tells. The only widely available alternative in MCH is Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6, Lieutenant Kijé, Love for Three Oranges - Litton which is presented conventionally with all forces in front of the listener; a twist is the use of a baritone for the Romance and Troika under Litton. Musically, the honours are even & listeners can decide which sound presentation is more appealing.
The reproduction of the recording may be more problematic: this is presented in the style of Tacet's Real Surround or 2L's more adventurous aural presentations. This means the violins are in the front left, trumpets behind on the right and the rest of the musicians dispersed seemingly at random. Once accustomed to, it is tremendously exciting and opens the textures wonderfully; some may prefer a more conventional presentation of the orchestral & choral forces. One aspect of the recording that is disappointing is that many of the loud, high notes in the trumpets are audibly distorting (presumably decay in the master tapes) in Alexander Nevsky. Fortunately this is not carried through to Lieutenant Kijé which is also presented with the listener "in the mix". Although the levels are higher than usual for a classical music release, there is no shortage of dynamic range.
Recommended with reservations: musically, there are absolutely no hesitations. Sonically, there is the distortion of the trumpets that many will struggle to acclimatise to as well as the unusual seating arrangement in MCH. Despite all these caveats, these performances deserve to be heard.
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