If you enjoy Prince Igor then
this is a similar mix without quite
Borodin’s extraordinary level of inventive
Rimsky rather specialised
in fairy-tale operas. The Tale of
the Invisible City of Kitezh and the
Maiden Fevronia combines personal
drama with a patriotic overview thus
securing for it a continuing place at
the Bolshoi ahead of such dangerous
satirical parables as The Golden
Cockerel. This is amongst the earliest
of the opera’s recordings; perhaps the
In the role of Fevronia,
Rozhdestvenskaya has a powerful voice,
with firm and even note production but
with little variety of dynamic. Her
lines are coloured by the birdsong which
surrounds her in the first scene and
is her hallmark all the way through
to her transfiguration in Fevronia's
Death (tr. 8 CD3). Fevronia is a girl
of the people - a clever heroine yet
with romantic susceptibility (listen
to the lovely song in Fevronia's Vision).
She is also compassionate even towards
betrayers such as the finally demented
Grishka sung by Tarkhov. Vsevolod, Fevronia’s
suitor, is sung by the stalwart Ivanovsky.
He is not as flexibly voiced as Rozhdestvenskaya
and shows the strain at times.
The musical characterisation
of the traitor Grishka is by no means
obvious. Prokofiev in Semyon Kotko
spares the villain nothing when
it comes to caricatured condemnation.
Rimsky establishes his characters in
three dimensions. Here Rimsky finds
some compassion for the wretched Grishka
(CD1 tr 20). He is sung by Dimitry Tarkhov
who is the master of the awed whisper;
listen to his needy pleading scene with
Fevronia at CD 2 tr. 12
Nebolsin conjures some
nice effects as in the distanced songs
of the hunting party in Arrival of the
Hunters (CD1 tr. 7). The Merchants Song
has the Bolshoi men in some truly ursine
singing. The wedding choir is accompanied
by the tinkle of the balalaika (CD1
tr. 17). The jingling wedding procession
(CD1 tr. 15) recalls the joyous nuptial
celebrations in Rachmaninov's The
Bells. Act 2 launches with a whirlwind
Dance of the Bears - surely acknowledging
the example of Borodin. There is plenty
of variety in the writing as we hear
in the harp-accompanied Ballade of
the old bard (CD1 tr. 10). The magically
conjured orchestral effects at the end
of tr.13 CD 2 where the city disappears
but the reflection remains - the Tartars
flee in consternation.
The Tartars are portrayed
in tones of awed horror and Rimsky is
not above some Tchaikovskian and Mussorgskian
borrowings when he needs this mood.
Listen to tracks 18 and 19 on CD1: The
invasion of the Tartars.
The debt to Sibelius
is strongly reflected in Scene of
the Bear Keeper (CD1 tr. 11). Indeed
the music often has a rustling Sibelian
underpinning as at tr. 4 CD1. The orchestral
ostinato at the start of the final Act
rustles with the mystery, threat and
tension you find in Sibelius's En
Saga and First Symphony and in Rachmaninov’s
In a scornful gesture reminiscent of
the explosive start to the finale of
Beethoven's Chroal Symphony act III
begins with Poyarok blinded by the Tartars
telling Vsevolod and Yuri of the plans
of the Tartars to destroy the city Greater
Kitezh. This is accompanied by Lisztian
melodramatic orchestral gestures.
The Battle of Kershenets
is rumbustious but Nebolsin also catches
its brutality (CD 2 tr.8). Those stabbing
and slashing gestures surely inspired
Rachmaninov in his Symphonic Dances.
Act Four is a long
glowing hymnal ascent towards the cathedral
marriage of Fevronia and Vsevolod where
eternal happiness is now secure.
Nebolsin is no perfervid
febrile inflamer of the passions - neither
a Golovanov nor a Mravinsky. He has
a good feeling for the lyric theatrical
tradition - for bel canto - he strikes
me as likely to be a fine Puccini interpreter
but I doubt that he was ever let loose
on the Italian's scores.
Background rustle has
been completely tamed by Great Hall’s
engineers. The intrinsic sound solid
is as a rock if not very refined and
the voices are very forwardly favoured.
Considerable care has gone into the
technical aspects of the transfer. The
results are better than might be hoped
for from a Soviet recording from 1956.
It is a pity then that there is no libretto
and translation. What we do get is a
literate and compact synopsis: it's
pretty short though. In addition there
is a detailed track-listing. Track creation
is liberal (CD1: 20; CD2: 13; CD3: 15).
The booklet is in both Cyrillic and
English. Proof-reading is pretty good
- certainly better than the counterpart
booklet for Great Hall’s 1936 Onegin.
This set is especially
treasurable for some fine sturdy singing
by Ivan Petrov; Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya
and Dmitry Tarkhov. Let’s not forget
the outstanding orchestral contribution
from the Bolshoi and from Nebolsin -
try the briefly triumphant finale for
proof (tr. 15 CD 3). I cannot claim
perfection for this set but it does
include some truly nectared singing.