Credit to Volvo for their perceptive decision to support
this recording which was made in 1996 and has taken five years to reach
An early work, the opera Aleko, is closely allied
in style to the music of Tchaikovsky and Borodin. Järvi does nothing
to mask this. The Women's Chorus (tr 2) has the lilt of the Polovtsian
Dances. Balakirev can be glimpsed in the long Duet and Finale
(track 13 8.40). Sergei Leiferkus is in gloriously firm voice struck
deep into the permafrost of the Steppe. Time and again, when listening
to Aleko, I thought of Eugene Onegin: we know that Rachmaninov
considered Tchaikovsky a god.
If you know Leiferkus's role in the Chandos recording
of the complete Rachmaninov songs you will know what to expect. The
voices do not have the field to themselves. The role of Zemfira is taken
by the soprano Maria Guleghina who shares the rare vocal qualities of
Leiferkus - tight control, an expressive intelligence and sound technique.
In a world awash with sopranos unable to hold a steady note and subjugating
pronunciation to the demands of vocal technique voices such as Guleghina's
must be celebrated.
Listen out also for the leer and sneer of the brass
in the Scene and Chorus (track 4). The operatic stuff is interspersed
with various purely orchestral interludes: the prelude, the dances for
women and for men, and the Intermezzo - all typical Previn fare
and likely to be pretty familiar.
The recording is made in the big, though not dwarfing,
acoustic of Gothenburg Concert Hall. As a performance it has, overall,
the stamp of the authentic Russian approach. By the way Gothenburg and
Göteborg are the same place. This is the same orchestra and conductor
who recorded the first two Steinberg symphonies - also for DG.
Competition? I can recall only last year's Delos (with
the Pushkin drama spoken in Russian and in English) review
and a Balkanton recording of this work although there may be others.
From what I recall of that Bulgarian recording this one is the clear
superior and makes an easy first pick subject to checking the Delos.
Rather like the yet more impressive and passionate
Francesca da Rimini and The Miserly Knight this opera
will not take up a full evening. It would however pair well with either
of these others though would sharply benefit from the passionate contrast
delivered by Francesca.
This disc is also available as part of a three