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This is peak Reiner/Chicago and the transfer here makes for a very welcome alternative to RCA's own, available elsewhere online: if anything, to me, the sound is more natural in the present release, going on my 24/96 download. The ambience of the CSO hall is caught superbly and balance between orchestra and choir in this cantata, taken from what was originally conceived as film music, is excellent. Both choir and the excellent Rosalind Elias sing in English (the US accents of the choir may be noticeable to European ears, but neither this nor the fact that this is not in the original Russian detract from the overall effect to me). In any case, so meaningful is Elias's singing in 'Field of the Dead', one almost forgets this isn't in Russian (I am reminded of the story of Prokofiev's compatriot, Rachmaninov, who once remarked how much he enjoyed an English performance of his Vespers). By all means, seek out Svetlanov in this present repertoire for the last word in authenticity, but the performance here remains a lot to be reckoned with, to say the least. I initially wondered what the strange effect was in the very last note of the piece, something that sounded like a garden wind chime having crept into the range of the microphones: but no, this is merely the excellence of the recording picking up the orchestra xylophone so clearly during the closing bars. Thoroughly recommendable. Superb!
The HDDT catalogue now has three recordings of Nevsky. All I will ever need is Reiner's. Beneath his uncanny control of every nuance in this miraculous score, there is passion bordering on fury. If that were not enough, he has clearly the best orchestra and by a mile and a half the best chorus. (Even though they sing the Russian parts in English, they sound and feel like Russians, and their Crusaders are flat out terrifying). This has always been a demonstration recording, but no prior issue comes close to HDTT's transfer. By comparison, Shippers is sloppy and Ormandy is both incomplete and lackadaisical. And, purely as sound, neither recording comes close to the Layton/Mohr Living Stereo for clarity, impact, dynamic range and realistic space. This is the one to have.
This is a solid performance and the transfer has great impact and bottom end.
Set aside Stalin's politcal/propagandistic subtext for the movie Prokofiev so brilliantly scored. Just revel in some of the best orchestral/choral writing and performing ever captured in the recording "can" and flawlessly at that. The CSO and Margaret Hillis' legendary CSO Chorus outdo themselves, and Reiner's expected uncanny skills are enriched by what feels like genuine passion. It doesn't even matter that all the Russian text is sung in English. Short version, from the still terrors of a Russian winter, to the Crusaders in Pskov (next to whom Darth Vader is a complete wuss) and the hair-raising Battle on the Ice, this is something to treasure all round .
Title: Sergei Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky
Artist(s): Fritz Reiner & The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Rosalind Elias (Mezzo-Soprano)
Margaret Hillis, Chorus Director
Recording Info: Recorded by RCA 1958 at Chicago Symphony Hall
Producer: Richard Mohr Engineer: Lewis Layton