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ALEXANDER

NEVSKY

by Sergei Prokofiev
This was one of the earliest film scores, and still one of the best.  One of Prokofiev's few ventures into film, he liked the score so much he made a cantata from it.  The CD I'm reviewing here is not the cantata, but rather a reconstructed version of the entire score formed from the cantata and listening to the movie.  In the propaganda film, the music was basically a catastrophe.  Its recording levels were only 5000 Hz, compared to the industry standard of 20000 Hz.  Also, some of the footage was lost because, in the rush to please Stalin, the people who took the film to him didn't realize that an entire reel of it was missing.  It turned out that the director, Eisenstein, was asleep on top of it.  Thus, Prokofiev's masterful score sounds disjointed and chaotic in the film.  However, this CD has excellent sound quality, an awesome performance by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra combined with three (!) choirs.  The music is flawless, containing an epic 16 minute battle cue (the inspiration for most of Horner's battle music.  Joel McNeely also made a homage to it in Shadows of the Empire.) as well as several awe-inspiring choral anthems.  The booklet has a nice essay on the film and music, as well as a full-sized fold-out movie poster.

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Prelude (3:47)
This was formed from material that was in the cantata, but not used in the film.  It opens with a chasing trombone figure and becomes a series of loud, fantastic fanfares accompanied by pounding timpani.  The tone throughout this overture is very desperate and pleading.  From what I can tell, no thematic material is utilized, and the last two minutes are quite soft, setting the stage for the movie.
2. The 13th Century (1:29)
For the opening of the movie, Prokofiev begins with woodwinds, foreboding brass, and oboe and bassoon solos.

3. Plescheyevo Lake (Song about Alexander Nevsky (2:28)  (Boy, that first word's a mouthful :)
This nice hymn-like song has a woodwind introduction, followed by the first statement of Nevsky's main theme in the men's chorus.  It's very calm and tranquil, but still a ravishing choral work.  The tempo increases, introducing the second figure, and comes to a nice conclusion.  A woodwind interlude follows, modulating into a higher key, and leading into another statement of Nevsky's theme in the choir.

4. Pskov in Flames (2:27)
Opens with sinister low brass (one of the most cliched figures in soundtrack history, but it was original here.)  A wailing trumpet line enters, quiets, and the trombones return.  One of the key themes makes its first appearance (the battle motif from the first section of "Battle on the Ice.")  The loud, evil brass end the track.

5. "Death to the Blasphemer!" (Peregrinus expectavi) (3:16)
After assorted orchestral meanderings, the brass bring in another one of the main themes, the "Expectavi" theme, eventually joined by the chorus.  The opening brass is like a sinister horn call, and the choral section is almost a chant.  The low brass motif from the previous track appears for a few seconds.

6. Arise, People of Russia (4:13)
Fitting its name, this is one of the most rousing anthems on the album. The full combined choirs are heard for one of the first times, singing a triumphant battle hymn.  After the first idea, the female parts come in, singing the first statement of the Peasant motif, to be expanded upon later.  The male parts eventually join it.  An orchestral arrangement of the opening anthem follows, becoming one of the main battle themes (heard later.)  The innocent peasant motif returns, also played by the orchestra this time.  Clanging bell-like percussion form the next few seconds, joined by another statement of the anthem/battle motif by the choirs.

7. The Teutonic Camp (Peregrinus expectavi) (2:35)
The tone abruptly changes with another statement of the desolate Expectavi motif in the choir accompanied by an obscure field organ.  It ends with the field organ playing the entire theme.

8. Nevsky's Camp: Night before the Battle (0:52)
For the prelude to the huge battle suite, Prokofiev brings back the opening woodwinds from "Pskov in Flames" and expands upon them.

The Battle on the Ice: One of the most original and exciting cues in film history, this is not to be missed.  It's been greatly expanded from the cantata.
9. April 5, 1242 (Peregrinus expectavi) (6:08)
This prelude to battle continues to build throughout, climaxing in a furious sound effects suite.  It expands upon the horn call and Expectavi motif, first stating the call in a quiet solo, eventually joined by the choir.  A pulsing percussion/string ostinato is the basis for the rest of the track with various statements of the horn call, first in the tuba coupled with trumpets, continually gaining in strength, tempo, and volume.  A tambourine and wood block join the already huge percussion section, along with descending trumpet decorations and the original horn call.  The choir eventually comes in with the full Expectavi motif, joining the awesome horn call ensemble.  All the elements continue to build in volume and orchestration, climaxing with assorted battle noises.

10. Fight for Russia! (1:51)
This is the first of the ballet-like action cues.  One of the main motifs is heard for the first time, adding excitement and depth to the seemingly mindless killing on screen.

11. Spears and Arrows (Peregrinus expectavi) (2:55)
"Spears and Arrows" opens with a chasing figure for brass and strings, later adding an expansion of the horn calls from       track 9.  As expected, the full choir enters singing the Expectavi motif, also expanded upon, combined with the horn calls.  More sound effects end the track.

12. The Duel with the Grand Master (1:22)
This remains my second-favorite action cue (after track 9), providing a rousing climactic motif to the long battle.  A clanging anvil in the background adds to the urgency, along with a frenetic chasing figure in the orchestra.

13. The Battle Is Won (3:33)
As the crusaders are finally victorious, Prokofiev gives us three minutes of expansion on the main action motif from "Fight for Russia!"  complete with chasing trumpets, strings, etc.  At one point, I even heard an alto saxophone solo!  As the cue progresses, several string runs are added, and the horn call intrudes into the triumphant proceedings.

14. The Ice Breaks (1:43)
Both sides scramble to escape the breaking ice, and this cue appropriately opens with pounding timpani, cymbals, and that clanging anvil.  In the background of the chaotic percussion ensemble are various dissonant hints at the ever-present horn call.  The cue ends with a nice cadence.

15. The Field of the Dead (5:37)
A dreary tone returns with mournful string passages for the first few minutes, later joined by a wailing solo soprano singing an operatic aria.

16. Pskov: Procession of the Fallen and Judgment of the Prisoners (4:10)
Clanging bells open this track, but the bulk of it is based on an mournful elegy.  Chasing strings later erupt, leading to more bells and a moving triumphant orchestral statement of Nevsky's song, eventually joined with the peasant motif.  The strings return, and another soaring orchestral arrangement of the song ends the track.

17. "And now let's celebrate!" (1:02)
Strangely enough, the final underscore track is based on one of the main battle motifs, the chasing figure from "Spears and Arrows."  The opening is a full statement, but the rest is a quiet expansion, bringing back that saxophone solo.

18. Final Chorus (:52)
For the final track in Prokofiev's opus, the versatile composer reintroduces the triumphant orchestral arrangement of Nevsky's song, but adding ecstatic choir and bells, ending on a huge chord.

I know a lot of you hear the phrase "Golden Age" and immediately conjure up images of endlessly cliched, hopelessly shallow orchestral music, but Prokofiev was different.  This score was the basis for most orchestral action scores today, and sounds as if it could have been written for any modern movie while still maintaining its freedom and elegance as a concert work.  Needless to say, I think your collection is sorely lacking without a copy of Alexander Nevsky (in some form.)



 
Alexander Nevsky: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 7/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 10/10




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Alexander Nevsky is Copyright 1995 by BMG Classics.  Its appearance is for educational purposes.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  Tripod had nothing to do with these opinions.  Computer programming is cool.  Learn C++ and DirectX and go out and program a game.