This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
As David Nice observed in his review of the rival DG set, the fascination of Mazeppa lies in the way it moves "in and out of scenes and predicaments which clearly touched the composer". That means essentially the more intimate moments, as when the implacable elderly Mazeppa reveals his true affection for the much younger Maria, when her father Kochubey laments his imprisonment, submits to torture and retains his dignity before execution, and when she, unhinged by the shock of this event, cradles the dying body of Andrei, her childhood sweetheart, shot as he made an attempt on Mazeppa's life.
The new Kirov recording, like all in this superb series from Philips, is taken live from performances at the Maryinsky
Theatre, and it's extremely telling at all those crucial moments, without emerging as consistently superior.
Nikolai Putilin's Mazeppa has a heavier voice than his DG counterpart, the ever mellifluous Sergei Leiferkus, and he shows more strain (Tchaikovsky takes his baritone to a high A flat at one point). But his dramatic range is greater and he is more believable both as ruthless tyrant and lovestruck old man. So honours are fairly even here, I think. Similarly Irma Loskutova's Maria cannot compete with DG's Galina Gorchakova for beauty of tone and purity of line, and in anything above a mezzo piano her voice spreads quite alarmingly. Yet DN was right to find Gorchakova's characterization rather diffident and unvaried, and it is Loskutova who is the more moving at the opera's quiet conclusion. It's the same story but in reverse with the two Kochubeys. For Philips Sergei Alexashkin is heftier of voice in Act 1, but it's DG's Anatoly Kocherga, initially rather dry and underpowered, who grows in dramatic stature in the Prison and Execution scenes (musically much influenced by Boris Godunov), darkening the timbre and timing his delivery to perfection, where Alexashkin can only add stagey sobs and routine barks of defiance.
The balance-sheet is fairly even with the smaller roles too. Larissa Dyadkova repeats her moving portrayal of the agonized mother; Viktor Lutsiuk's Andrei sounds at first no better than a cardboardcut-out ardent lover but largely redeems himself in Act 3; Nikolai Gassiev hams up the Drunken Cossack in a way that was probably more effective on stage than it is on CD.
Scientific measurement would probably show little difference between the Kirov Orchestra's instinctive sostenhilo and the plausible copy of it manufactured by the Gothenburgers, or between the full-throated Russian of a native chorus and the Stockholm Royal Opera's more than passable imitation. However, the extra sense of dramatic immediacy on the new set is unmistakable. Järvi was swift in the "Gopak", stomach-churning in the Prison and Execution scenes, and vivid in the "Battle of Poltava"; Gergiev is even more so. Incidentally, Gergiev departs from the score in the Battle, bolstering it with a forceful return of the famous Slam! folk-song and omitting Tchaikovsky's transition to the following scene. Tits is admittedly one of Tchaikovsky's more routine set pieces, but I doubt whether such 'effective' rewriting improves it. It certainly isn't among the variant readings included in the Russian printed score, and I don't find it mentioned in standard sources either. So it would be interesting to know whether it has any status other than as a Kirov 'house convention'. The booklet makes no mention of it, merely reprinting the DG essays and synopsis (cutting the musical example in the German essay). But that at least means that whichever version you choose you get the considerable benefit of Richard Taruskin's erudition.
Standard for this series is the dryish orchestrapit sound, with little or no bloom on the strings and indifferently balanced woodwind. Theftisson of curtain going up, audience presence, applause between scenes, and movement of voices on stage, offers some compensation, and I pretty soon adapted. But the results of editing together more than one live performance are not entirely satisfactory. There are some bumpy edits on held vocal notes and voices sometimes jump to different positions on stage (if you think you're likely to be put off, try to hear the first disc, track 3, at 027" and 134").
Musically both sets are distinguished. Force me to choose and I would take the new Gergiev, for an extra sense of the drama being lived out. But owners of the DG discs will enjoy better sound quality and marginally more consistent singing.
-- Gramophone [7/1998]
Works on This Recording
Mazeppa by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Sergei Alexashkin (Bass),
Nikolai Putilin (Baritone),
Larissa Diadkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Irina Loskutova (Soprano),
Viktor Lutsiuk (Bass),
Vladimir Zhivopistsev (Tenor),
Viacheslav Luhanin (Baritone),
Nikolai Gassiev (Tenor),
Vladimir Zhivopistsev ()
Kirov Theater Orchestra,
Kirov Theater Chorus
Written: 1881-1883; Russia
Date of Recording: 05/1996
Venue: Live Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg
Length: 169 Minutes 46 Secs.
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