Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a faithful testament to Mazeppa's intermittent power to move and appal.
Call it cynicism or simply a composer's desire to reach a wider public at a time before film scores brought in the money, but Tchaikovsky's newfound concept of opera as a popular art-form in the 1880s was hardly likely to yield any consistent masterpieces. Ironically it was the earlier Eugene Onegin that now took on a new lease of life and turned Tchaikovsky into Russia's best-loved composer, not the more calculated recipes for success of The Maid of Orleans, Mazeppa or Charodeyka ("The Enchantress"). Onegin works for us today because it is sincerely felt from start to finish; but the fascination of those lesser-known operas lies
in the way they move in and out of scenes and predicaments which clearly touched the composer. Of the three, Mazeppa has the greatest share of first-rate music, extending our appreciation of Tchaikovsky's blacker side as he attempts to reflect the cruelty inflicted by the anti-hero (no noble Ukrainian freedom-fighter either here or in the Pushkin poem on which the opera is based), though the centres of gravity on this recording do not always fall where received critical wisdom has suggested they should.
Tchaikovsky has supposedly invested most in the portrayal of the unhappy heroine Mariya; but the celebrated 'quiet curtain' to the last act where, driven gently mad by her elderly lover's execution of her disaffected father, she cradles the body of her childhood sweetheart in her arms, registers its restraint without proving deeply moving. There is a matter-of-factness about Galina Gorchakova's delivery which holds us at arm's length, begging admiration for the unique brilliance of her upper register without beginning to touch the core either of the necessary intimacy here nor the bigger emotions of previous scenes. Her response to Ma2eppa's patriotic scheme in Act 2 (second disc, track 4, index point 8) gives us a fairer picture of the Gorchakova phenomenon than ill-focused earlier stages of this semi-interpretation: shining strength above the stave goes some way towards redeeming the placidity of the whole. It takes Larissa Dyadkova's far more committed cut and thrust in the electrifying scene between Mariya and her mother to spur Gorchakova to a more consistent sense of occasion (though I wonder, incidentally, if the final clash here of the soprano's top B with the mezzo's A can ever sound quite right).
Anatoly Kotscherga's Kochubey recalls the virtues and weaknesses of his Boris for Abbado (Sony Classical, 5/94). He would clearly like to deliver more than his limited vocal resources permit him as the outraged father seethes in Act 1—Chaliapinesque ranting might just have carried the ensemble scenes of the act, much the weakest of the three—but he rises to his supreme challenge as Tchaikovsky plumbs the depths for Kochubey's prison monologue: here, indeed, are the range of tone-colour and introspection missing from Gorchakova's mad scenes. Leiferkus has less to deal with as the headstrong tyrant (though more, certainly, than Sergei Larin, who does his best with the lachrymose heroics of the token tenor); even so, he strikes firmly at the heart of darkness, and there could be no more free- and easy-sounding delivery of the wonderful aria that Tchaikovsky gave his baritone at a late stage in the compositional process. In the cases of both the victim's darkest hour and this, the conqueror's most sensitive one, Jarvi reinforces the orchestra's role as an equal partner in characterization—driving home the lower-instrument gloom and terror of Kochubey's circumstances, underlining the light and lovely, woodwind-dominated scoring of "0, Mariya!" as Mazeppa muses Gremin-like on the sincerity of his late-flowering love.
Jarvi's swift, fluent way with the outward drama of the piece is strikingly established in the Introduction, where the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra are lucky to be able to establish their greatest asset in the first, brusque announcement of Mazeppa's theme: powerful cellos and basses register richly in another spacious Gothenburg Concert Hall recording. He takes the orchestral set-pieces, the gopak and the "Battle of Poltava" sequence at heady speeds, though the fire dims a little for the big execution-finale of Act 2, where neither the brass nor the chorus (from Stockholm's Royal Opera, a notch above the polite Gothenburgers on Jarvi's previous DG opera recording, Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel, 7/91) are as ruthless as their Russian counterparts would surely be. A short Third Act means that there is (unused) space on the third disc for the conventional finale that Tchaikovsky originally wrote (it is included as a supplement to the full score); our respect for his last-minute decision to keep it simple would surely be all the greater had we been allowed to hear that alternative. Slight disappointment with the muchvaunted Gorchakova apart, then, this is a faithful testament to Mazeppa's intermittent power to move and appal. If DG decide to keep this particular ball rolling, I only hope Jarvi has his eye on the winsome Vakula the Smith rather than Tchaikovsky's other later operatic hybrids; may they then follow in good time.
-- David Nice, Gramophone [11/1994]
Works on This Recording
Mazeppa by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Richard Margison (Tenor),
Monte Pederson (Baritone),
Heinz Zednik (Tenor),
Larissa Diadkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Anatolij Kotscherga (Baritone),
Sergei Larin (Bass),
Galina Gorchakova (Soprano),
Sergei Leiferkus (Baritone)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra,
Royal Stockholm Opera Chorus
Written: 1881-1883; Russia
Date of Recording: 08/1993
Venue: Konzerthuset, Göteborg, Sweden
Length: 166 Minutes 51 Secs.
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