Alexander Nevsky op. 78
1 Russia under Mongolian Tyranny 3:29
2 Song of Alexander Nevsky 3:50
3 The Crusade in Pskov 7:28
4 Arise, People of Russia 2:06
5 The Battle on the Ice 13:46
6 The Field of the Dead 6:13
7 Alexander enters Pskov 4:31
Lieutenant Kijé Suite op. 60
8 Kijé’s Birth 3:58
9 Romance 3:51
10 Kijé’s Wedding 2:33
11 Troika 2:42
12 Kijé’s Funeral 5:22

Total Time= 60:06 FR735SACD

Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) was Ukranian born to an agronomist father and a mother who was devoted to music and theater. Because of this, he started playing at the age of three, wrote his first composition at the age of five, and his first opera at the age of nine.

At eleven he was introduced to Reinhold Gliere who began teaching him composition for two years. At fourteen he was introduced to Alexander Glazunov and the Saint Petersburg Conservatory where he remained for ten years, composing ballets, operas, and concertos.

In 1917 he wrote his first symphony “Classical” a work written in the style of Haydn yet incorporating modern elements making it truly unique. In 1918 he left Russia for San Francisco and spent the next eighteen years in America and Paris finally returning to Moscow in 1936 where he remained until his death in 1953 also the same day Joseph Stalin died. He was convicted of formalism along with others in 1948 forcing him to withdraw from public appearances.

The two works presented on this CD were from his film days, “Alexander Nevsky” (1938) is a product of the famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein and Lieutenant Kije (1934). Both works were turned into symphonic works and are two of his more popular works. He even had a hand in mike placements to determine trumpet sounds (distorting them in Nevsky).

Since both films are available on the internet for free you should watch them seeing where the music is placed even though they are suites that you’re listening to. It will also give you an idea of how far we’ve come in terms of audio quality. The results will shock you.

In 1242 Alexander Nevsky was summoned to save the federation of Rus by the knights of the Livorian order. Prokofiev wrote a twenty-seven part soundtrack for the film which he reduced to a seven-part cantana for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra. Frank Strobel introduced the original film score in 2003 and gave a stoic performance.  What is included has no musical interest or improvement to the cantata.

  1.  “Russia under Mongolian Tyranny” sets the scene by Prokofiev with an atmospheric motif in c minor as the camera pans over burnt villages, human bones, swords, and rusty lances all depicting the war. The motif switches between the heavy brass and a folk tune from the winds.
  2.   “Song of Alexander Nevsky” is embedded into the film as part of the commentary by Eisenstein’s decision not to synchronize the music to the film. The chorus talks about the victory over the Swedes but Nevsky warns about a more dangerous foe Germany.
  3.   “The Crusade in Pskov” is filled with heavy brass dissonant chords mixed in with chants from the chorus. The lower register passages will rumble your woofer and the major strings will switch your mood almost instantly, mourning for the dead.
  4.   “Arise, People of Russia” is a march full of resolution and hope a bolstering of the troops predicting victory. Nevsky has made his plans to capture the enemy on the ice.
  5.   “The Battle on the Ice” is the longest of the movements at nearly fourteen minutes and is also the most popular part of the work. It begins with the dawn and sinister strings followed by a constant playing of a low register theme that signals the German army arriving. The German theme is distorted on purpose with the brass, grating to the ears. The movement, after much turmoil, segues into a quiet peaceful string elegy.
  6.   “The Field of the Dead” mourns the death of war. The Mezzo-Soprano promises to wed a warrior whose bravery will never end instead of one who is handsome. There are no chords of triumph.
  7.   “Alexander Enters Pskov” continues the dirge as the dead are brought through the city. The music continues with a compilation of the previous themes and ends on a victorious note.

Lt. Kije (1934), a farcical film was the first attempt at a soundtrack for Prokofiev. He was intrigued by the storyline and ended up writing a series of leitmotifs totaling fifteen minutes that were satirical by this caustic and witty composer. The story was perfect for him and led him to his return to Russia two years later.

Because of a mistake on a roster list the fictitious Lt. Kije is created and he somehow marries the daughter of the tsar Gagarina and has lots of fortune available to him. Eventually, he is found out which solves the problem. but the story shows the stupidity of the royal family and the displeasing of one’s superior.

While it is seldom played the suite is scored for a baritone which is sung in Romance and Troika tracks.

  1. “Kije’s Birth” begins with a distant cornet barely audible to introduce the track. The piccolo introduces a march type theme that extends itself to the strings and brass. We hear a solo from a tenor saxophone (new at the time). It ends as it started with the cornet in the background.
  2.  “Romance” is a song The Little Grey Dove is Cooing which Prokofiev adapted to fit this movement. It starts with double bass, viola, tenor saxophone, horn and bassoons, and celesta. The flute offers a counter-melody and the strings end the sentimental movement.
  3.  “Kije’s Wedding” begins with a brass phrase followed by the wedding theme. The middle section is a soulful tenor sax solo before the leitmotif returns in a witty fashion. The brass ends the movement as it began.
  4.  “Troika” is a Russian three-horse sleigh and with tempo changes, Prokofiev goes from very quickly to slow to reproduce motion. Its theme has been used many times in jazz arrangements, commercials, television, and films. As you listen to it you can hear the bells jingling and the clicking of the hooves.
  5.  “The Burial of Lt. Kije” begins like the first movement a distant cornet and then Prokofiev arranges the four tunes like a highlight reel including all the nuances and subtleties they have to offer. There is a part where the strings and the cornet are playing two of the melodies at the same time. It’s a very clever well thought out arrangement.

     There have been many recordings of this suite including 78 recordings, 331/3 LPs, cassettes, 8 tracks, and CDs.  There are many fine recordings available, one of which is this recording with the Utah Symphony. What sets this one apart is the new recording quality from Reference recordings. The instruments just sound better and this is very important with Prokofiev and the instruments he chose for these compositions especially the tenor saxophone.



van BEETHOVEN, Ludwig (1770—1827)
Symphony No.9 in D minor, ‘Choral’, Op.125
I. Allegro ma non troppo e un poco maestoso 14’26
II. Molto vivace — Presto 14’08
III. Adagio molto e cantabile — Andante moderato 14’31
IV. Finale 22’38
Presto 2’37
Allegro assai 3’21
Presto 3’28
Allegro assai vivace. Alla marcia 3’53
Andante maestoso 3’02
Allegro energico e sempre ben marcato 2’13
Allegro ma non tanto 2’15
Poco allegro — Presto 1’49
Ann-Helen Moen soprano · Marianne Beate Kielland alto
Allan Clayton tenor · Neal Davies bass
Bach Collegium Japan chorus & orchestra
Masaaki Suzuki conductor

BIS-2451 TOTAL TIME- 65:03

Composed between 1822-24 Beethoven was thinking about the D Minor Symphony ten years earlier with sketches of the scherzo, fugue, and first movement in his sketchbooks. It was during this time in his life that the effects of his deafness were beginning to take effect. Since his early youth, he had been interested in Schiller’s An Die Freude (owned a book of his poems) “Ode to Joy” and his Ninth Symphony became the vehicle to incorporate this poem written in 1785. The poem/song has become a symbol of hope and unity,  most recently because of the Bernstein performance when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 as well as the initial reaction of the work between the populist and Hapsburgs among others. It turned the city of Vienna from a police state into one of universal brotherhood. Beethoven, by using this composition, created the first Choral Symphony, opera incorporated into a symphony, and a bridge between classical and romantic music. He also influenced a lot of composers including Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, and Mahler with this last major work.

Beethoven conducted the premiere in Vienna in May of 1824 (his choice was Berlin because of the Italian influence in Vienna). He was totally deaf by this time in his life and the alto singer Caroline Unger turned him around after the performance to face the enthusiastic audience which was in shock when they realized he couldn’t hear. He conducted the following evening to a much smaller audience and this was his last public performance.

The Symphony is in four movements and very long for its day at 60+ minutes. It was the largest orchestra that Beethoven had ever assembled including two ensembles and amateurs.

The first movement begins with a pianissimo stirring in the fog waiting to emerge. We don’t know what it is but it shows itself with an abrupt immersion of a theme in D minor in fortissimo. Written in 1816 (sketchbooks) this heroic music shows the transition between the classical and the romantic style. As it shows itself we don’t know whether to embrace it or be afraid. The end features a funeral march that starts with the bass and eventually spreads itself to the entire orchestra, a coda of some length.

The second movement, a scherzo, in quadruple time, is played out of usual order and has a somewhat similar sound to the first movement. It is a fugue piece of rhythm in D minor, staccato, with accompaniment from the timpani. The second theme is in D major which is in duple time and the trio’s theme is introduced by the trombones, a folk-like melody which eventually is overpowered by the scherzo which abruptly ends the movement.

The third movement, an adagio in B flat major, is placed out of order by Beethoven and unlike the first two movements is one that is filled with warmth but also sadness. It is lead by the woodwinds, a double variation between the rhythm and the melody. In the end, the pizzicato sound increases in volume and the movement ends with a loud fanfare from the brass.

The final and longest of the movements is, in reality, a symphony within a symphony divided into four parts.

  1.  Themes and Variations which include a brief cell of each of the first three movements as well as dissonant passages in the beginning which definitely gets your attention.
  2.   A Scherzo in a military-style and it ends in a chorus of the main theme “Ode to Joy.”
  3.   A slow meditation with a new theme.
  4.   A fugato based on the first and third themes.

The Ninth today is almost universally accepted as one of the greatest musical works ever written. Having said that Verdi loved the first three movements but found bad writing for the voices in the final movement. There has been much discussion in the metronome markings, some conductors claiming it was too fast. There has been a discussion about a missing weight which would alter the numbers on the metronome of Beethoven’s that still exists today. Both Wagner and Mahler changed the woodwinds to give it a modern sound and several have performed the work on original instruments, the path taken by the Bach Collegium Japan, orchestra of this review.

There have been several books that have been written about just the Ninth Symphony and the times in Austria/Germany.

There have been movies such as “Copying Beethoven”(2006) which is a fictional story about the last year of his life about a copyist who never really existed. There was a Hollywood film “Immortal Beloved”(1994) starring Gary Oldman about his life. There was a documentary film “Following the Ninth: In the Steps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony.”

Stanley Kubrick, a director, featured the Ninth in his film “A Clockwork Orange,” and it has been used in several other films such as “Die Hard,” “Dead Poets Society” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”

Founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki, Bach leading authority, the Bach Collegium Japan has recently gotten away from recording only Bach to Beethoven including this 9th Symphony using period instruments. The result is nothing short of spectacular comparing it to similar recordings. The SACD Surround Sound Hybrid pressing results in a superior sound, a huge difference from my Toscanini NBC Symphony release from the early fifties which is a monaural recording. Over the years I have listened to many conductors and orchestras and this has remained my favorite. Suzuki has given us a fine reading with period instruments in a modern up to date recording. I can only hope this will be a success for BIS. It is now a part of my collection along with the Toscanini.





            01 Andante – Allegro con anima 14:48
02 Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza –
Moderato con anima 12:25
03 Valse. Allegro moderato 5:43
04 Finale. Andante maestoso –
Allegro vivace (Alla breve) 12:03

Total time 45:38
Bavarian Radio Symphony
Mariss Jansons / conductor


In celebration of ten years, BR Klassik’s (radio station founded in 1980) label is offering this CD for $4.99 with a catalog of their releases. This Mariss Jansons recording was released in 2009, a live recording in Munich. It was re-released for this anniversary without the “Francesca Da Rimini” selection.

The initial idea for a new symphony came to Tchaikovsky in April 1888 about the time he was also working on the overture to Hamlet while staying in Frolovskoye, a town outside of Moscow, to get away to compose. There was a doubt as he wrote to his younger brother Modest, “Now I am gradually and with some difficulty, squeezing a symphony out of my addled brain.” He expressed doubt to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck saying “Am I really written out?” The rough draft was completed by the end of June and the orchestration was done by the middle of August with the composer being relatively pleased with the work.

The orchestral premiere took place in St. Petersburg in November of 1888 with the composer conducting. While friends of Tchaikovsky were enthusiastic about the performance critics were very harsh towards it. Alfred Einstein accused the neurotic  Tchaikovsky of exhibitionism of emotion claiming the composer had succumbed to spasms of melancholia. This lead Tchaikovsky to further bouts of depression and failure as a composition.

Today it stands out as a work of great orchestration, harmony, and filled with many melodies and takes its place as one of the great symphonies which are listened to and performed often.

The main theme is introduced and darkly played by a clarinet which is a cyclical one in all four movements, where Tchaikovsky made some program notes about it but discarded it. In it, he said of the first movement “… a complete resignation before fate which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate…” It is a sonata, taking the form of many classical symphonies as the first movement. It offers five themes switching from major to minor keys and returning at the end to the recurring main theme.

The second movement or andante cantabile is one of the more recognizable tunes having been performed in films and as a single called “Moon Love” by Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra among others with lyrics by Mack David, Mack Davis, and Andre Kostelanetz. The five-note melody on the horn going gently upwards is introduced by the strings. There is a theme by the oboe and the horn a return to the main theme and finally, the clarinet which remains in a dream-like state.

The third and shortest of the movements is a waltz which has three melodies from the violin, oboe, and bassoon, and bassoon including a scherzo and finally back to the main theme.

The fourth movement returns to the recurring main theme before the violins take-over with an allegro. There are two additional themes from the woodwinds, strings, and flute. The brass and the trumpets finish off the movement with a return to the main theme.

There are over 100 recordings of the Fifth Symphony in a single form, the last three symphonies, or a set of six symphonies with or without the Manfred. All of the major conductors have recorded some or all of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. Included in this mix is Mariss Jansons who also recorded the set in 1984 with the Oslo Philharmonic for Chandos as well as this release for BR Klassik’s in 2009. Both recordings are very similar in tempo and style which is straight from the score, perhaps a little bit on the quick side but certainly not pushed in any way. It is far from the almost frantic pace of the Mravinsky 1960 DG stereo recording, the most recommended performance. To get this recording you have to purchase 4, 5, and 6 as opposed to getting a good quality Symphony No. 5 at a reduced price by a conductor who has Russian Soul and an orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony who understands Russian music.

One thing that I didn’t like was the humming in the background of the conductor. The first time I heard it I had to go back and re-listen to it to make sure I had not made a mistake. I heard it on my higher end Grado headphones and not my Bose speakers so the sound is very soft. I wouldn’t let this prevent me from purchasing this recording.

I found the wave download file from Naxos to be perfectly acceptable for my listening needs. It was free of any glitches that sometimes occur.

This is a good buy and I would recommend it if you don’t have it or as a gift to someone.



Track Listing

  1.   Mars, the Bringer of War  7:41
  2.   Venus, the Bringer of Peace  8:19
  3.   Mercury, the Winged Messenger  3:54
  4.   Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity  8:23
  5.   Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age  9:26
  6.   Uranus, the Magician  5:52
  7.   Neptune, the Mystic  7:08
  8.   The Perfect Fool Ballet Music  10:39

TOTAL TIME,  61:22        RR-146

How many recordings can one have of “The Planets” and why would you buy this one over 100 other ones and available for free on Google, Spotify, and YouTube at a lower quality. Reference Recordings set the standard for the very best in recording and engineering offering Dolby Surround 5.1, SACD, and stereo with HDCD. The superior recording, along with the fine reading of the Kansas City Symphony directed by Michael Stern, makes this the must-have recording. Did I say that the download was available in high resolution?

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was born to three generations of musicians and Gustav continued the tradition although neuritis in his right hand prevented him from playing the piano. He did supplement his income by playing trombone in concert bands and churches as well as an organ in church.

Joining the Hammersmith Socialists Holst met and fell in love with Isobelle Harrison, a young blue-eyed soprano who he married in 1901. They had one child Imogen Holst (1907-1984) who went on to champion her father and was a composer and author among other accomplishments

The working title for “The Planets” was “Seven Large Pieces For Orchestra” and each movement was a tone poem, fashioned after Franz Liszt and Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces For Orchestra.” It was written between 1914-16 and first performed by Sir Adrian Boult in September of 1918. As an aside, he was to record the work sixty years later.

It should be noted that Holst wasn’t an astronomer but an astrologer thus the mixing up of the order of the planets (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) according to the astrological characters. The music has to do with the descriptions of war, peace, messenger, jollity, old age, magician, and mystic. Originally it was written with the descriptions only with the planets being added later. Extremely popular, parts of the works have appeared in nearly 100 films including Hans Zimmer’s “The Gladiator” which resulted in copyright infringement. “The Planets,” was studied by composer John Williams for his soundtrack “Star Wars.”

Mars, the bringer of war is a militant piece that features a ferocious five-note pounding rhythm that like a war machine is relentless. There are two themes the first of which has no harmonic development. The second theme comes from the tenor tuba which is replied to by the trumpets. What makes this music so unique is that it’s entirely inhuman even to death. This movement has been the subject of many uses in television, films, and advertising.

Venus, the bringer of peace is quite a complex movement in terms of harmony and texture for a very serene work. It features solo violin and oboe passages along with passages of a heavenly nature from the harp, celeste, and glockenspiel. This is the complete opposite of Mars.

Mercury, the winged messenger features two simultaneous rhythms in two different keys, from the shortest of the seven movements, something which Holst used in some of his other works. It is definitely a bouncy upbeat composition that is again completely different from the two previous movements.

Jupiter, the bringer of jollity. The middle movement which the others rotate around is a high spirited movement in tempo and rhythm. There are six themes that Holst managed to include in eight-plus minutes. This movement has also been used to stand alone in many different genres. The overall texture is one of English folk themes, something that Holst was greatly influenced by. The final theme was adapted by Holst in the early twenties “I Vow to Thee My Country” an English Patriotic hymn with words by Spring Rice.

Saturn, the bringer of old age begins with great despair from the double basses behind the steady rhythm of the clock sounding the end. The second theme by the trombones is a voice of wisdom and the movement ends on a note of acceptance and tranquility. This movement is unique as it takes you through events as opposed to one single moment in time.

Uranus, the magician. Picture the cone hat and garbs of material and a pompous person loud and full of energy and he shows his tricks right away. For an encore, he surrounds himself in flames and disappears,

Neptune, the mystic is without melody and harmony, only parts. It is barren and empty in effect. A chorus of women offers a wordless passage that slowly ends in nothing along with the end of the movement. The choir sang in an adjoining room and the door very quietly closed to end their soprano/alto singing.

When one listens to this keep in mind that it was written over 100 years ago and it still has that fresh sound of a modern-day composition. Not a fan of lists this is one composition that belongs in the top ten must-have classical works. Why not get the latest in a noise-free background and Dolby surround for your sound system. The pace of the work while slightly faster than most is a very pleasant listening experience


Ballet Music (10:39)

Andante (invocation)

Dance of Spirits of Earth

Dance of Spirits of Water

Dance of Spirits of Fire

“Perfect Fool” is a one-act opera written as a parody of Richard Wagner opera’s between 1918-1922 that is seldom performed if ever but the opening ten-minute overture has turned out to be one of Holst’s more popular works as it performs like his Uranus which plays out like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The work begins with the spirits of earth performed by a trombone that rises in energy and descends in deliberate purpose. The double basses depict the nature of the earth.  When the awkward dance ends the earth spirit runs underground leaving a solo viola to conjure up the spirits of the water love theme. The third theme of fire needs no visual lighting as the music crackles the noise of the flames. Written closely in time to “The Planets” there are some similar sounds in the orchestrations and harmony especially at the beginning of the overture.