In nearly every respect this is outstanding. The Rondo brillant and the Fantasie, both written for the virtuoso duo of Karl von Bocklet and Josef Slawik, can sound as if Schubert were striving for a brilliant, flashy style, foreign to his nature. Both are in places uncomfortable to play (when first published, the Fantasie’s violin part was simplified), but you would never guess this from Faust’s and Melnikov’s performance; they both nonchalantly toss off any problem passages as though child’s play. The Fantasie’s finale and the Rondo brillant are irresistibly lively and spirited, and this duo’s technical finesse extends to more poetic episodes – Melnikov’s tremolo at the start of the Fantasie shimmers delicately, while the filigree passagework in the last of the variations that form the Fantasie’s centrepiece have a delightful poise and sense of ease.
The famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein held Prokofiev the film composer in the highest regard, and to couple their two celebrated collaborations, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky, in a two-disc set is therefore entirely appropriate. Ivan the Terrible, however, is a problematic score. Assembled by Abram Stassevich after the composer’s death, the oratorio lacks the large-scale balances and tensions of Prokofiev’s own Nevsky cantata, relying on narration to hold the structure together. This substantial English version by Michael Lankester, intended to ‘compensate for the lack of visual image’, is well projected by Christopher Plummer. Rostropovich directs a vivid performance of Alexander Nevsky, and only the rich tone of Russian voices is lacking. The LSO plays brilliantly, while the recording does full justice to one of Prokofiev’s finest scores.