Utah SO, Fischer Take On Prokofiev In Blockbuster CD

Thierry Fischer leads the Utah Symphony in an SACD of Prokofiev film scores adapted for concert use. (Utah Symphony)

Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kijé Suite. Alisa Kolosova (mezzo-soprano), Utah Symphony and Chorus, University of Utah A Cappella Choir, University of Utah Chamber Choir, Thierry Fischer (conductor). Reference Recordings FR-735, SACD. Total Time: 60:06

DIGITAL REVIEW – Thierry Fischer is set to leave the Utah Symphony in 2022, but not before finally setting the ensemble back on the recording path after many years in the wilderness. The orchestra has been splitting its agenda between a just-completed SaintSaëns symphony cycle for Hyperion and Mahler and new music for audiophile-oriented Reference Recordings.

Now the Fischer/Utah team takes on another potent sonic blockbuster, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, the concert cantata that Prokofiev fashioned from one of the greatest film scores ever made, and the suite from Lieutenant Kijé, an expansion of another terrific Prokofiev film score.

Alexander Nevsky gets off to a promising start, with the right anticipatory atmosphere in the opening “Russia under Mongolian Tyranny” and “Song of Alexander Nevsky,” featuring good choral work from three Utah choruses. The sound quality is especially rich and enveloping when heard on a surround sound system, with some targeted detail coming through the rear speakers (an unusual yet welcome feature on multi-channel classical recordings when the work lends itself to spatial setups).

Some problems set in, though, with the chorus “Arise, People of Russia,” which is taken at too hasty a pace to create a rousing effect. Same with the big centerpiece of the score, “The Battle on the Ice,” which loses its power when it speeds up into the large collisions, and the orchestral sound turns a bit shrill under pressure. But they did get an authentic-sounding Russian voice, mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova, for “The Field of the Dead,” and the grand finale is just grand sounding. To sum it up, a mixed bag of a Nevsky.

The performance of Lieutenant Kijé, however, is spot on in almost every way, catching the Prokofiev bounce in the rhythms, a bit fast in spots yet comfortably so. While Fischer and Utah play the usual five-movement orchestral suite, the recording might have made a bigger splash in the market had they opted for the rarely recorded version with a baritone soloist in “Romance” and “Troika” (Erich Leinsdorf has recorded these with striking effect). Or perhaps included the even rarer unpublished original Kijé film score, which reportedly consists of 16 short disconnected cues lasting only 15 minutes. Nevertheless, the Utah performance of the suite is competitive with the many others as is.

Richard S. Ginell writes regularly about music for the Los Angeles Times, and is the Los Angeles correspondent for American Record Guide and the West Coast regional editor for Classical Voice North America. He also contributes to San Francisco Classical Voice and Musical America.