Notes and Editorial Reviews
A thoughtful performance of Mussorgsky's masterpiece, with Ghiaurov conveying a dignified and reflective portrait of Tsar Boris.
Mussorgsky's original Boris Godunov, without benefit of Rimsky-Korsakov, has become more or less accepted now, for recordings as well as on the stage; though that begs the question of what is the original. David Lloyd-Jones, in his authoritative edition, uses the word "initial" for the 1869 version which was turned down by the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres, and "definitive" for the work's enlargement by the Polish act and Revolutionary scene (with the St Basil's scene dropped) for the 1874 production. As is now common, this new recording includes both the Revolutionary and the St Basil's scenes. The scoring is the original, of course, though the singers generally take (insignificant) variants which suggest they are using the 1874 Bessel vocal score.
The performance is a thoughtful one, sometimes with rather too much thought with Tchakarov, and not enough raw energy. Fortunately the best is at the centre, with Ghiaurov's reflective, melancholy Tsar Boris. His first words, "Skorbit dusha" ("My soul is sad"), suggest the burdened sinner, much as Boris Christoff does but with a deeper tinge of sorrow; and this note runs through his performance. He is very tender with his son Fyodor (sympathetically sung by Rossitza Troeva-Mircheva), and plays the histrionics of the hallucination scene down. The death scene, too, is sung simply and well, with few extra effects (a sob early on before the word "umyrayu"—"I am dying"—and a final groan). The music does not need them: there is no greater demonstration of what all that 'realism' meant to the Russians than the melodic line as it steadily loses its human warmth and disintegrates into oblivion. It is not a performance that attempts the rugged majesty of Boris Christoff, and if it loses something in dramatic impetus by that much, it conveys musically and with much dignity a portrait of Mussorgsky's bowed Tsar. Ghiaurov is in places a little free with the rhythm, which does not matter much, and changes the odd word (not surprisingly substituting "k nam" for "vsye" on the high F where Mussorgsky inconsiderately placed it).
Christoff, on his EMI recording under Clutyens, sang both Pimen and Boris; but though it was an impressive tour de force, the idea is not really advisable. Here, there is a good contrast with the graver voice of Nicola Ghiuselev, who is a sombre but by no means ascetic Pimen, remembering his youthful indiscretions with penitence but, for once, as if they could actually have happened. He delivers the final address to the Boyars superbly.
The remainder of the cast give varying performances. Stefka Mineva is an unseductive Marina, her powerful tone and pronounced wobble standing up better to the tense exchanges with Boris Martinovich's alarming Rangoni than to the love duet with Grigory, or the False Dmitry; he is sung, with a skilful sense of a man possessed, by Mikhail Svetlev, giving a well-sustained performance. There is a plausible villain of Shuisky from Josef Frank. But the more extrovert scenes suffer from a lack of exuberance. The crowd at the start is hustled along by a policeman of implausible gentleness; Stefka Popangelova's Nurse does not sound as if she is enjoying her romps with the children very much; Penka Dilova's Hostess is rather tame with her song about the grey drake; and as Varlaam, Dimiter Petkov has clearly been sustaining himself with nothing stronger than lemonade as he clambers up to sing his boastful song about service under Ivan the Terrible. The Holy Simpleton, as "yurodivy" is here translated, sounds too knowledgeable in Mincho Popov's performance. The chorus are rather well-behaved for a Russian crowd under pressure; they are also too often behind the beat, and tend to swallow their final syllables (which affects the phrasing). The recording, good with the orchestra, is less than kind to the chorus. With the discs comes a well-produced booklet containing rather short background essays, and a transliteration of the text plus English, French and German translation.
-- Gramophone [4/1992]