Prokofiev: On Guard For Peace, Queen Of Spades Suite / Jarvi, Tchistjakova, Docherty, Royal Scottish NO

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PROKOFIEV On Guard for Peace. 1 The Queen of Spades: Suite (elab. Berkeley) Neeme Järvi, cond; Irina Tchistjakova (mez, nar); 1 Niall Docherty (boy sop); 1 Royal Scottish Natl O, Junior Ch, 1 Ch 1 CHANDOS 10519 (66:05 Text and Translation)

Neeme Järvi has made a considerable reputation by conducting and recording music that is peripheral to the mainstream repertoire. In so doing, he does not have to compete with A-list conductors and makes listeners interested in this seldom performed music happy at the same time. When he ventures into the standard repertoire, the results are frequently mediocre at best (his Chandos Brahms symphonies are a case in point). Järvi can legitimately be called a Prokofiev specialist. His Chandos cycle of the complete Prokofiev symphonies was generally well received despite some pretty fierce high frequency harshness from a sonic standpoint. In keeping with his reputation, Järvi also recorded many obscure Prokofiev works as fillers, in addition to important albums featuring orchestral suites from The Stone Flower and War and Peace , among others. So, a CD containing The Queen of Spades Suite and the oratorio, On Guard for Peace , is hardly surprising.

The Queen of Spades is described on the album cover as a symphonic suite containing rediscovered music from an unrealized film score arranged and elaborated by Michael Berkeley. Clearly, from that description, this is not all pure Prokofiev. The lengthy but somewhat nebulous program notes confirm that Berkeley actually composed some of the music, and a portion of Prokofiev’s original material actually appeared elsewhere (for example, the second section is built on a melody also heard in the third movement of the composer’s Fifth Symphony). Not to worry. There is more than enough here to satisfy Prokofiev lovers, even if it is a bit of a pastiche that does not contain much of his most personally individual music. Berkeley succeeds in arranging all of it into a dramatically effective orchestral suite. This happens to be very appropriate because of the fact that Prokofiev is probably first and foremost a suite writer (as opposed to a natural symphonist like Shostakovich).

In the context of the political propaganda emerging from Russia at the time, the title On Guard for Peace does not sound promising. The orchestral contribution is fine and has Prokofiev’s unmistakable sound, but the fairly extensive narration (in Russian) is not very listener friendly. The vocal soloists aren’t much better, including a wobbly mezzo-soprano (who doubles as the narrator) and a boy soprano desperately searching for the correct pitch. The text is blatant propaganda (there is nothing like a children’s chorus to proclaim the party line joyfully). Some of it does sound a little bit like Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible , but the level of inspiration is infinitely lower. Järvi is quite ideal as a conductor of obscure Prokofiev, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra seems to have those typical sonorities in their blood. The sound is typical for Chandos with a little haziness and high frequency harshness. Anyone who values Järvi’s Prokofiev series should enjoy this release.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10519

  • UPC: 095115151921

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Sergei Prokofiev

  • Conductor: Neeme Järvi

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Scottish National Chorus, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

  • Performer: Irina Tchistjakova, Niall Docherty