Film Music: Mr Prokofiev's feelings for ice

Sergei Eisenstein's patriotic epic about Prince Nevsky's defeat of invading Teutonic knights dates from 1938, yet such is its startling directness that the passage of time vanished for the duration. What really made the showing on Tuesday was the simultaneous live presentation of Prokofiev's magnificent score, expertly conducted by Carl Davis. Eisenstein's visual forces raged from a screen placed in front of the Hall's organ, with the Choir singing from either side and the orchestra seated as normal.

Lovers of Prokofiev's more familiar Alexander Nevsky "Cantata" will have noted much that was "new", primarily at the end of the celebrated "Battle on Ice" where the hapless Teutons fall between breaking ice slabs and Prokofiev responds with loud volleys of kicking percussion.

Elsewhere, there are fanfares, organ solos, formidable bouts of bell- ringing and, in the Battle itself, riveting extensions of musical material that we already know. Although initial impressions suggested potential disproportion between dry voices on celluloid, grainy monochrome on screen and deafening live dynamics, the mind soon adjusted and the impact matched that of any big movie with a digital sound-track.

As to the film itself, the sheer force of the crowd scenes was offset by the occasional cause for giggles - a pair of heroes that looked like Hale and Pace, random continuity (a wide variety of weathers, miscalculated perspectives, etc) and coconut-shell horses' hooves. And yet scenes among the fallen were shockingly desolate and Prokofiev's music always entered on cue - a real challenge in the Battle sequences where music, words and action constantly interweaved and where a less skilled conductor might easily have come adrift. The majestic closing chorus was easily as impressive as any concert performance that I've heard.

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