Ivan the Terrible

Liubov Sokolova, Nikolai Putilin, Chorus of the Kirov Opera, Rotterdam Philharmonic / Valery Gergiev

(Philips 456 645-2)

The images remain indelible, stark and monochromatic, rich in glowering close-ups, cruel and unusual faces in cruel and unusual times, bearing the terrible burden of a nation's long and painful history. First there was Ivan, then Ivan and Anastasia, and while they were wed, Moscow burned. Bad omen. Enemies abroad (those marauding Tartars), enemies at home. The Boyar threat, the Opritchniki (the Tsar's saviours, feasting in technicolour, a singularly audacious gesture from a singularly audacious director). All this we remember.

But Eisenstein's 1940s film is wedded to Prokofiev's score and Valery Gergiev (looking for all the world like Ivan reborn in the booklet photograph) sees and hears so far beyond the narrative, between the cues of Prokofiev's score, that it's possible to forget that, in truth, that is what we have here - a collection of cues, stings and musical jump-cuts, reassembled after the composer's death (by one Abram Stassevich) and stitched-up (in more ways than one) by the addition of a linking narrative, spoken in Russian or English depending upon which version you choose to perform.

Gergiev chooses neither, preferring instead to let the music alone do the talking. And, because he has such a wonderful nose for characterisation, for atmosphere, for Gothic imagery (those close-ups again), the sense of narrative continuity is a powerful one. The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra could pass for Gergiev's own Kirov band - there's real edge to their brass and oily woodwinds (the cannon-founders lead a mean push to Kazan) - and, needless to say, there's a lot of history in the voices.

That's something else. An emotional subtext, a deeper historical resonance, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a past, both glorious and inglorious, fast fading in the memory. When Gergiev and his strings finally catch sight of Kazan, it's as if they do so for the last time.