Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recordings of Boris never seem to stay long in the catalogue. Whereas the work is usually a sellout at Covent Garden and elsewhere, it would seem that opera-lovers are reluctant to encounter the music alone without the panache of staging. However that may be, the only previous version more or less adhering to Mussorgsky's 1872 revised text (conducted by Semkow on HMV SLS 1000, 9/77—nla) did not achieve the expected success; JW in his resiew in these pages was not exactly enthusiastic about it deeming Semkow's direction fundamentally undramatic and the mixed cast of international and Polish singers less than a success (excerpts are available on ESD 143617-I, 2/84). Now we have, from a Russian source, a second attempt to give permanent life
to Mussorgsky's original ideas. On the whole, I find that it has accomplished most of those things found missing in the other recording.
It follows even more closely than the HMV the authoritative edition prepared by David LloydJones (OUP, 1975), thus presenting us with as Faithful representation as possible of the 1872 revisions, but omitting the Saint Basil scene included by I-IMV. Secondly it is all of a piece in the sense that all the members of the cast are Russian, and steeped in Boris tradition (even if that has been, for the most part, performing the corrupt Rimsky alterations), and it captures, as the other did not, the raw folk and religious aspects of the score. Fedoseyev, as we know from his appearances here, is one of the most exciting of the younger generation of Soviet conductors, and here he confirms the fact by bringing out the psychotic feeling of the Boris scenes, the sensuousness and grandeur of the Polish act, the popular earthiness of the work's opening and closing scenes. Indeed I don't remember hearing the Kromy Forest finale more excitingly achieved, except perhaps by Abbado in the recent Royal Opera production. Nor is Fedoseyev inclined to those exaggerations that sometimes mar the readings of some of his contemporaries. He is supported by playing and singing from the Russian Radio and Television orchestra and chorus that seems thoroughly versed in Mussorgsky's requirements and has none of those drawbacks—wobbly sopranos, watery horns—that we have found so trying in some previous Russian records of opera.
So far so good. When one turns to the calibre of the solo singing, doubts and reservations begin to occur. They arise mainly from the undoubted fact that the older Russian singers are no longer in their vocal prime and that the younger ones, as has often been noted, seem to lack the strict training of their predecessors. Thus we have the veteran Verdernikov as a Boris with a full understanding of the role's histrionic needs, which he can convey by vocal means, but the instrument itself is now rather hollow and rusty in tone. He falls somewhere between what JW described as the "post-Chaliapin roar" and the sensitive mustcality but somewhat muted reading of Talvela for Semkow. He occasionally slips back into Rimsky's vocal line, sometimes distorts note values but by and large follows Mussorgsky's intentions with the proviso that he is inclined to slide up to the initial note of a phrase. But the most essential requirement, the understanding of Boris's haunted derangement, is vividly Felt throughout, and the set-pieces, the study monologue and the death, are as searing as they should be.
Arkhipova may sound a little mature for Marina, but her innate musicality and her understanding of Marina's sensual, ambitious nature are magnificently conveyed in her rounded portrayal, while Mazurok abets her as an insinuating Rangoni. Though I wish he sang pianissimo when enjoined by the composer to do so. Mazurok presents the scheming bigot to the life, without resort to verbal caricature. Among other of the Bolshoi elite, Eisen is a rollicking Varlaarn, and Sokolov an oily Shuisky.
The best representative of the youthful singers is Matorin as Pimen, telling his mysterious tales with warm, ingratiating tones, yet managing to sound world-weary as well. Piavko is no Gedda in the role of the Pretender. Although in JW's apt characterizing of the part, he suggests the "curious mixture of idealism and selfishness, of courage and oddity", his enthusiastic vocalisation leads him to bleat and wobble uncomfortably at climaxes and his sense of pitch is far from secure. Hostess and Nurse are taken by two of those fruity mezzos who never seem to be wanting in Russia, but the Feodor sounds far too elderly for impersonating a boy and the Xenia has a vinegary timbre. The interpreters of the smaller roles are similarly variable in quality.
The recording was made over five years, 1978-83, which may account for some strange differences between the acoustic in different scenes. On the whole, the sound is slightly too reverberant but I appreciated the immediacy of all the choral scenes, and I never found its drawbacks detracted from my enjoyment ofa performance in which the sum is undoubtedly more imposing than some of the parts would suggest. Anyone wanting to become fully acquainted with Mussorgsky's greatest score in its authentic form really has little reason to hesitate this time.
-- Gramophone [12/1984]
Works on This Recording
Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky
Yuri Eliukov (Tenor),
Vladimir Silajev (Baritone),
Janis Sporgis (Tenor),
Ludmilla Simonova (Mezzo Soprano),
Anatoli Mishutin (Tenor),
Artur Eisen (Bass),
Yuri Mazurok (Baritone),
Irina Arkhipova (Mezzo Soprano),
Vladislav Piavko (Tenor),
Vladimir Matorin (Bass),
Alexander Voroshilov (Baritone),
Andrei Sokolov (Tenor),
Nina Grigorieva (Mezzo Soprano),
Elena Shkolnikova (Soprano),
Glafira Koroleva (Mezzo Soprano),
Alexander Vedernikov (Bass)
USSR Radio/TV Large Symphony Orchestra,
Spring Studio Children's Chorus,
USSR State Radio/TV Chorus
Date of Recording: 1978-83
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