After a windup of many months, the much-anticipated musical reconstruction of Sergei Prokofiev's musical score to Sergei Eisenstein's film, "Alexander Nevsky," reached Los Angeles Tuesday night in a gala benefit performance of the 1938 film accompanied by the L.A. Philharmonic, conducted by Andre Previn.
As John Goberman, who masterminded and produced the project, has been promising all along, it works.
The stature of the 108-minute film as an artwork has long been established. But musicians and critics conceded flaws and insufficiencies in the final combining of sight and sound. What filmlookers have been hearing for these 49 years has been called tinny, tiny and far from the composer's alleged symphonic conception of this music.
In the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, before an audience which seemed to overflow the capacity of the house, that conception, realized by the 104 players of the Philharmonic, another 130 musicians of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and mezzo-soprano soloist Christine Cairns, came to life.
Notwithstanding small problems of ensemble between the distant east and west sides of the Pavilion pit, Previn held it together masterfully. And in all moments--despite his reported qualms about matching music to screen--he accomplished neatly the difficult task of synchronization.
But his mastery, as might be expected in a conductor-composer who has over the years come to be considered a specialist in the works of Prokofiev, did not stop at technical precision. Previn produced, with clearly willing forces, an impassioned and soulful performance.
The Philharmonic--whose members were donating their services to this joint benefit performance--played splendidly, but without raucousness or overstatement. The Master Chorale, though lacking a genuine Slavic edge in their Russian, sounded authoritative and handsome. Cairns, the Scottish singer who has been an annual visitor for three seasons now, gave a poignant, burnished and meaning-rich performance to her single solo.
The re-scoring of Prokofiev's score--a complicated matter, since no manuscript of the original remains--was accomplished by William D. Brohn, who received credit for the musical adaptation in the program. The proof of Brohn's authenticity would seem to be that nothing to be heard in this performance jarred one's Prokofievan sensibilities, or distracted from the impact of watching this touching film on a huge screen--with the presence, a tremendous presence, actually, of a powerful orchestra between screen and audience.
This performance, underwritten by AT&T, with contributions from 29 additional benefactors and patrons, reportedly cost in the neighborhood of $300,000, though that figure includes the further cost of subsequent scheduled live-orchestra performances of the film in Cleveland and Washington, D.C.