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Borodin: Prince Igor / Gergiev, Kirov Opera

Release Date: 04/11/1995 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 442537   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alexander Borodin
Performer:  Nikolai GassievKonstantin PluzhnikovGalina GorchakovaOlga Borodina,   ... 
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kirov Theater OrchestraKirov Theater Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 29 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Curious things happen long before the official surprises of this vitally fresh Prince Igor, not least in the Overture, where Gergiev takes the horn's beautiful melody at a very slow pace. No doubt it would be different in a concert performance, but Gergiev is anxious to prepare us for the weighty events which follow and his particular point with the theme is, I suppose, to relate it to its place in the opera as the heart of Igor's great aria. There, in league with the bass-baritonal timbre of Gergiev's prince, Mikhail Kit, it solemnly underlines the fact that this is an aria of potency frustrated, sung by a hero who spends most of the opera in captivity and that is further emphasized by a second aria which no listener will ever have heard Read more before. It is the most significant of the passages discovered among Borodin's papers, rejected by Rimsky-Korsakov in his otherwise sensitive tribute to Borodin's memory but specially orchestrated for this recording by Yuri Faliek. It may not rank with the most memorable numbers in the score, but like the other 'new' music (inserted to portray Galitzky in a more threatening light in his short-lived rebellion at the end of Act 2) and unlike the greater part of Borodin's score where, in spite of what the insert-note maintains, I find Borodin's style and orchestration so close to Rimsky-Korsakov's as to be virtually indistinguishable, it has a Mussorgskyan ruggedness about it. It also helps to give a weighty focus to Act 3 otherwise a phenomenal feat of reconstruction on Glazunov's part, but somehow insubstantial.

The other problem with the Prince Igor we already know is the way that Act 3 rather weakly follows its much more imposing Polovtsian predecessor. Gergiev obviates both that, and the problem of too much time initially spent in Igor's home town of Putivl, by referring to a structural outline of Borodin's dating from 1883 which proposes alternating the Russian and Polovtsian acts. In the theatre, we might still want the famous Polovtsian divertissement as a centrepiece, but on the recording the new order works splendidly, not least because Gergiev is at his fluent best in the scenes of Galitzky's dissipation and Yaroslavna's despair, now making up the opera's Second Act and no weak sequel to the exotica of Kontchak's entertainment.

If anything, the new Second Act is a more satisfactory achievement than the first Polovtsian act, where Gergiev veers between extremes of languor and vigour. While Borodina executes Kontchakovna's seductive chromatics with astonishing breath control and focus of tone, Grigorian as her captive lover should surely have let the Polovtsian air work rather more wonders on his beaten-bronze tenor heroics (too loud too much of the time). Bulat Minjelkiev's Kontchak—he will be perfect on stage—is a little too free and easy, at least in comparison with Ognovenko's perfectly gauged Galitzky, a rogue who needs the extra rebellion music of this new version to show more threatening colours. There's just the right degree of relaxation, too, about his drunken supporters Skula and Eroshka. It takes two Russian character-singers to make sense of this pair—''with our wine and our cunning we will never die in Russia'', they tell us truthfully—and their comical capitulation on Igor's return, so tedious in the Covent Garden production several years back, wins respect for Borodin's daring happy-end transition here. It's beautifully paced by Pluzhnikov (rather strained by the awkward vocal writing, not inappropriately), Selezniev and their conductor, and crowned by a choral cry of joy which brings a marvellous rush of tearful adrenalin.

In terms of long-term vision, orchestral detail and strength of ensemble, Gergiev is far ahead of Tchakarov on Sony Classical, the only serious contender. You can also see the lamely directed Royal Opera production on video (Decca 7/93) to decide whether the new, sanctioned restructuring isn't a better option (I feel sure it is)but certainly Gergiev's new pleading for the Act 2 finale and Act 3 put this recording of a flawed masterpiece in a league of its own.

-- Gramophone [4/1995]
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Works on This Recording

Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin
Performer:  Nikolai Gassiev (Tenor), Konstantin Pluzhnikov (Tenor), Galina Gorchakova (Soprano),
Olga Borodina (Mezzo Soprano), Tatiana Novikova (Soprano), Mikhail Kit (Baritone),
Gheorghi Seleznev (Bass), Gegam Grigorian (Tenor), Bulat Minjelkiev (Bass),
Vladimir Ognovenko (Bass), Evgenia Perlasova (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kirov Theater Orchestra,  Kirov Theater Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1869-1887; Russia 
Language: Russian 

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