Notes and Editorial Reviews
"Where opera is concerned, our generation will undoubtedly be remembered for its emphasis on restoring scores to their pristine state, or at least attempting to divine and then execute the original intentions of the composer. Whether it be Gluck, Mozart, Verdi or Mussorgsky, authenticity and completeness have been the order of the day, perhaps going even beyond the composer's own wishes. In the case of Boris nobody has been more diligent than Abbado over the past 15 years, since he first presented the epic at La Scala, in seeking the truth about this vast canvas. Now we have the latest fruits of his efforts. Incidentally, this work forcibly reminds us how little has changed in Russia regarding conflicts of power: fanaticism and
religion competing for attention with cruelty and intrigue. Plus ça change ...
As happens most often today, Abbado plays the definitive 1872-4 version, adding scenes, including the complete one in Pimen's cell and the St Basil's scene from 1869. To avoid the Simpleton losing his kopek twice he omits the repetition of this episode, cutting from fig. 20-25 (in the OUP full score) in the Kromy Forest scene; a sensible solution.
This recording took place in 1993, as Richard Fairman explains on page 16, around the same time similar forces presented two concert performances in the Berlin Philharmonie, where the set was also recorded. It precedes stage performances in Salzburg (Easter and summer this year) with similar forces. As when Abbado conducted the work at Covent Garden in 1983 and at the Vienna State Opera in 1991, his is a taut, tense reading. With the Berlin Philharmonic now at his call, it has become grander, more virtuosic, at times hard-driven, favouring extremes of speed. The orchestra is very much in the foreground, sounding more emphatic than would ever be the case in the opera house. The total effect, for all its magnificence, is a shade unrelenting and the extremes of dynamics, recalling Karajan, are very marked. The precision and clarity are undoubted: whether or not Mussorgsky might not have preferred Gergiev's more understated, equally incisive Kirov reading on the Decca video version which I reviewed last month, is a matter of conjecture.
What cannot be doubted is that Michael Haas's first opera recording as producer for Sony Classical is of demonstration standard: most potent in the way it captures the wonderfully incisive and pointed singing of the combined choruses in their various guises, best heard through the most wideranging loudspeakers. Here all is vividly brought before us by conductor and producer in the wide panorama predicated by Mussorgsky's all enveloping vision.
Kotcherga, the Russian bass who will also sing the title-role at Salzburg, has a superb voice, firmly produced throughout an extensive register. Even before I read RTF's report, I was astonished and delighted at the accuracy of his reading and at its complete avoidance of conventional melodrama. I was interested to read that he was concerned to show the loving father, for his scene with Boris's children is here among the most rewarding. Given the velvety, soft grain of his timbre, it may not be surprising that the inner torment is not always much in evidence as it is with Talvela (on the reissued EMI recording), even more with Ghiaurov for Tchakarov. But these may seem like quibbles when set beside the beauty and musicality of Kotcherga's concept.
The ambitious lovers are well represented. Indeed, Larin is quite the best Grigory yet on disc, sounding at once youthful, heroic and ardent, and quite free of tenor mannerisms. Lipovkk characterizes Marina forcefully: we are well aware of the scheming Princess's powers of wheeler-dealing and of erotic persuasion. A certain hardness that has now come into her tone lately is not inappropriate. Even so, I would like to have heard the lovely Elena Zaremba in the role: here she makes a lively Hostess, a part so often consigned to superannuated mezzos. Marina's scene with the Rangoni of Leiferkus is one of the set's best, accompanied with a sure feeling for its many undercurrents of religious bigotry, voluptuousness and cant.
Ramey is classy casting for Pimen, but – for all his fine singing – he doesn't quite convince me that he is inside the part. Ghiuselev (Tchakarov) or Morozov (Gergiev) show just how much more subtlety can be read into the old monk's narration through variations of colour, tone and phrase deriving from long experience in the genre (Tchakarov is also gentler, more yielding here than Abbado). Langridge certainly knows everything there is to know about Shuisky, a role he has often sung with Abbado and though his tone hasn't true Russian character, his range of colour is arresting.
There seems no end these days to the new talent coming out of Russia. Here we have Albert Shagidullin as Shchelkolov, the Boyar's Secretary, disclosing a baritone of infinite possibilities and Alexander Fedin, a Covent Garden Rodolfo, singing the Simpleton with plaintive beauty."
-- Gramophone [5/1994]
Reviewing original release
Works on This Recording
Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky
Philip Langridge (Tenor),
Sergei Leiferkus (Baritone),
Sergei Larin (Tenor),
Marjana Lipovsek (Mezzo Soprano),
Anatoly Kocherga (Bass),
Samuel Ramey (Bass)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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