MUSSIRGSKY A Night on the Bare Mountain PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky
The variably transliterated Dmitry Kitaenko continues his Indian summer with this non-standard programme of three distinctly malleable masterpieces. Only the Prokofiev is performed in its most familiar guise. We begin with Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain presented un Rimsky ised and in purely instrumental form; this is not Mussorgsky’s operatic adaptation for The Fair at Sorochintsï which one might have expected in this context.
The Songs and Dances of Death up next are most frequently heard in the orchestrations by Shostakovich but plentiful alternatives exist from the 1980s. While Kalevi Aho tailored a version for Martti Talvela, this one by Edison Denisov plays to the strengths of Evgeny Nesterenko. A truly sepulchral bass, his elusive Melodiya recording under Gennady Rozhdestvensky combines unrivalled depth of tone and character with inconsistent Soviet sound engineering. Kitaenko has Mariinsky regular Vladislav Sulimsky in this score. He sounds younger, lighter and inevitably less extraordinary, albeit captured with greater fidelity and a more consistent measure of hall resonance. You certainly get a clearer impression of Denisov’s spooky, forward-looking sonic palette; his timbres are generally lean until he lets rip with ‘The Field Marshal’.
If Kitaenko’s preference for colour over drama has not put you off you might even enjoy his slow-burning Alexander Nevsky. But however balefully his players evoke ‘Russia under the Mongolian yoke’, the lack of impetus is immediately apparent in the ‘Song of Alexander Nevsky’. Gergiev in 2002 (Philips, 6/03) is more than a third faster. And Kitaenko’s ‘Crusaders in Pskov’ are in no hurry either. Mezzo Agunda Kulaeva, fresh from the Bolshoi, is an effective, focused soloist in ‘The Field of the Dead’. Then again, ‘Alexander’s entry into Pskov’ really does feel implausibly sedate. Throughout, I hankered after an angrier and edgier choral timbre than that offered by the imported Czechs. It doesn’t help that the notes and general presentation are plainly intended for the German market, with none of the set texts provided whether in Russian, German or English.