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Glinka: Ruslan And Ludmilla / Kiril Kondrashin, Et Al

Release Date: 02/28/2006 
Label:  Preiser Records   Catalog #: 90663   Spars Code: AAD 
Composer:  Mikhail Glinka
Performer:  Ivan PetrovEugenia VerbitskayaAlexei KrivtcheniaNina Pokrovskaya,   ... 
Conductor:  Kiril Kondrashin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre OrchestraBolshoi Theatre Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 3 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GLINKA Ruslan and Ludmilla ? Kiril Kondrashin, cond; Vera Firsova ( Ludmilla ); Ivan Petrov ( Ruslan ); Evgenia Verbitskaya ( Ratmir ); Alexei Krivchenya ( Farlaf ); Nina Pokrovskaya ( Gorislava ); Georgi Nelepp ( Finn ); Elena Korneyeva ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Naïna ); Sergei Lemeshev ( Bayan ); Bolshoi O & Ch ? PREISER 90663, mono (3 CDs: 200:00)

In Fanfare 28:2, I detailed at length some of the reasons I feel Ruslan and Ludmilla is the worst constructed work in the current operatic repertoire?and one of the most influential, from a musical perspective. It is opera?s Hearst Castle, though made with far more interesting materials: a blend of musically disparate styles, two of them created by Glinka, and a maladroit text where important characters vanish for lengthy periods of time, and the climax occurs offstage. It is also an extremely difficult opera to produce, even on records. Where some operas require a cast of three or four strong leads, Glinka?s work requires six; eight, if you factor in the short but memorable patter song for Farlaf, a buffo bass, and the short scene with chorus for Naïna, a mezzo. Fortunately, neither the Soviet Union nor Russia has ever lacked for a plethora of good, idiomatic performers. As a result, while none of the recorded versions of Ruslan and Ludmilla has approached perfection, none of them has been routine, either.

This recording is the second made of the opera, and issued in 1952. It was the first to benefit from standard tape masters and LP surfaces, improving dramatically on the wavery sound of the 1937 version that used an experimental layered-on-film recording process. Melodiya?s engineers compromised their 1952 outcome, however, by using an acoustically dry studio, leaving both voices and instruments sounding thin and rather harsh. Perhaps the additional lack of vocal richness is due to an attempt at sonic compensation, moving the singers away from the microphones to provide a larger, roomier sound; in any case, it lost some of the bloom on the voices of such warm soloists as Petrov, Krivchenya, and Verbitskaya. From that perspective, the 1937 recording is actually superior to its successor.

Issues of sound quality aside, the Soviets fielded a good cast. Ivan Petrov was one of a number of fine basses the Soviets had at their disposal around the half-century mark. His is a strong, well-characterized Ruslan, though he performs a less difficult version of his act II aria, without either the high G, or most of the coloratura. (Reizen sang these when he took the role in 1937, but he wasn?t offered the re-make.) Lemeshev is the best Bayan on records, his phrasing and tone like spun gold in his only aria. The basic quality of Nelepp?s voice is drier than ideal, but he interprets the role effectively, with great attention to the details of his narrative. Krivchenya is in excellent form, creating a very different aural personality from his celebrated assumption of Prince Ivan Khovansky in Mussorgsky?s Khovanshchina . (It?s heard to far greater effect in the excellent 1951 Nebolsin recording, now on Melodiya 70071, than a later 1970s version under Khaikin, currently deleted). Kondrashin wishes on his patter song a pace that would daunt anybody, but Krivchenya manages it without a problem, if also without the kind of detail that a slower tempo would have permitted.

Matters are less sanguinary on the distaff side, though Vera Firsova is a welcome presence. Her tone was a little unyielding in its fierceness, but she possessed outstanding coloratura?a very rare skill at that time, at least, outside of Russia, where it was still cultivated?and a fine understanding of the words that were reflected in her inflection of the singing line. Pokrovskaya makes a wobbly Gorislava, but one attentive to note values and dynamics. She had the range of voice, and a welcome sense of daring, for she gave her all without restraint. Evgenia Verbitskaya, too, possesses a wobble, albeit to a lesser extent. She had a creamy tone, a large voice, and fine breath control. Her act II aria claims admiration, even if it?s difficult to enjoy the unpleasant sound caused by the combination of her contralto with the state of Soviet engineering at the time.

Preiser provides a synopsis in English and German. There are cut listings, but no timings. A good copy was used for this transfer, although there are a few tape splices that are audible. Unlike much of the Preiser line, I detect no evidence of any frequency or noise filtering. Still, a boost to the midrange is probably a good idea, if only to compensate for the loss of vocal harmonics.

This definitely isn?t a first Ruslan and Ludmilla to purchase, and I would hesitate to suggest it for a second. My preferences run to Verdernikov?s recent release (PentaTone Classics PTC 5186) followed by the 1937 Samosud recording (currently deleted) for the miracles that are Reizen, Mikhailov, and Khromchenko. But there?s much to enjoy here from Firsova, Petrov, Lemeshev, and Krivchenya, while Kondrashin leads a spirited performance.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Russlan and Ludmilla by Mikhail Glinka
Performer:  Ivan Petrov (Bass), Eugenia Verbitskaya (Alto), Alexei Krivtchenia (Bass),
Nina Pokrovskaya (Soprano), Georgi Nelepp (Tenor), Sergei Lemechev (Tenor),
Elena Korneyeva (Mezzo Soprano), Vladimir Gavryushov (Bass), Vera Firsova (Soprano)
Conductor:  Kiril Kondrashin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra,  Bolshoi Theatre Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837-1842; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1952 
Venue:  Moscow, Russia, USSR 
Length: 200 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: Russian 

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