Not content to have already brought out a very fine 'Alexander Nevsky' cantata with Dmitry Yablonsky conducting the Russian State SO, Naxos is issuing yet another version of the piece, along with the 'Lieutenant Kije' suite. These performances derive from live performances in Lille in 1994 and were previously released on Harmonia Mundi. If I'm not mistaken that release pretty much came and went without much critical comment which is a shame because these are good performances that have an extra bit of excitement from having been recorded in concert. Added to that the incredible performance in the 'Nevsky' "The Field of Death" by Ewa Podles, currently the world's richest-voiced contralto recorded here before she exploded onto the world scene, and you should have a winner. However, there is extremely strong recorded competition for 'Nevsky' and there is no way this release can go to the top of the heap. There is the exciting, if a bit quirky but undoubtedly authentically Russian, version by Gergiev and his Kirov orchestra and coupled with a coruscating 'Scythian Suite.' There is Abbado's recording with the Chicago Symphony (which I heard him conduct in concert with them and which remains one of my most indelible experiences) with 'Nevsky' and 'Kije' coupled with a marvelous 'Scythian Suite.' Other fine 'Nevsky' performances include those by Temirkanov, Slatkin and Previn.
A plus for this 'Nevsky', in addition to the contribution by Podles, is the sound of the Latvian State Choir. There is something about the Slavic choral sound that is not easily imitable by Western groups.
'Lieutenant Kije' has had even more recordings to compare with this outing. Again, for me the Abbado/Chicago recording is tops, with August Herseth's perkily nonchalant cornet solos setting the bar for all other contenders. The Lille performance is not negligible, and the budget price might be a deciding factor here, but if I'm not mistaken the Chicago version costs only a buck or so more than this one and it contains more music.
Exciting music, well played, but this issue is an also-ran in an extremely competitive field. The relatively short timing of 58:20 doesn't help.