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Alexander Porfir’yevich BORODIN (1833-1887)
Prince Igor - highlights: 1. Overture; 2. I don’t like boredom (Galitzky’s Recitative and Aria, Act I); 3. Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens, Act II; 4. Daylight is fading (Konchakovna’s Cavatina, Act II); 5. Slowly the day was fading (Vladimir’s Cavatina, Act II); 6. There is neither sleep, nor rest (Igor’s Aria, Act II); 7. Choral version of the Polovtsian Dances, Act II; 8. Polovtsian March, Act III;
In the Steppes of Central Asia
Angelina Shvachka (mezzo) (tr. 4), Dmytro Popov (tenor) (tr. 5), Mykola Koval (baritone) (tr. 6), Taras Shtonda (bass) (tr. 2), Kiev Chamber Choir/Mykola Hobdych
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
rec. Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine, Kiev, 12-16 Dec 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557456 [57:45]



Borodin’s unfinished opera Prince Igor - it was finished by his friends Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov - appears occasionally in the release lists. Just a couple of months ago I reviewed Naxos’s reissue of the legendary Melik-Pashayev Bolshoi recording from 1951.

Now on the same label comes a brand new disc with highlights, recently recorded in the Ukraine under the indefatigable Theodore Kuchar. And highlights they truly are. I only wish though that they could have found room for a few more numbers: e.g. Konchak’s big second act aria. As it is, the Igor excerpts play for only 50 minutes. The symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia is thrown in for good measure. But what is on the disc is excellently performed so anyone with an interest in Russian opera can safely invest without feeling short-changed.

This conductor-orchestra combination is a well-known quantity through a large number of Naxos recordings. There’s a fine string section and powerful brass, both of which can be heard to good advantage in the overture. Kuchar is not one to linger unduly; he generally adopts lively tempos and a comparison with Melik-Pashayev shows Kuchar to be almost one minute faster. There is an irresistible vitality about the playing and that also goes for the other orchestral numbers: the Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens (track 3) and the Polovtsian March (track 8). In the most well-known extract, the Polovtsian Dances – here performed in the original version with chorus – the rhythmic vigour is a joy to hear and the Kiev Chamber Choir sing wonderfully with fresh and youthful voices.

In my notes I have marked most of the numbers with three exclamation marks, which is my personal top rating. I had expected good solo singing since I have heard several sensational Ukrainian singers lately; I wasn’t disappointed. Taras Shtonda, who is also a soloist at the Bolshoi, has a round and warm bass with a fast attractive vibrato. At first I thought that he didn’t sound nasty enough as Galitzky, but he soon won me over. Angelina Shvachka sings Konchakovna’s Cavatina so beautifully – and what an impressive contralto range! Dmytro Popov is a lyric tenor with a certain ring to his top notes but it is his tastefully soft singing that impresses most and the end of his aria is indeed magical. He is still in the foothills of his career – only 23 when this recording was made – and great things may be expected from him.

The title part is sung by Mykola Koval, who has been a leading baritone at the National Opera of Ukraine since 1981. His voice is beginning to show signs of wear. He starts his aria rather shakily with greyish timbre but sings the part with great authority.

All in all this disc gave me a lot of pleasure and the “filler”, In the Steppes of Central Asia is expertly played. Even if I prefer complete recordings of operas, a highlights disc can be a very valuable introduction and singing of this calibre is always welcome. More, please, Mr Kuchar! And there is no lack of good singers in Kiev. I recently heard soprano Oksana Dyka as Tosca (see review) and even more recently I heard the young bass-baritone Vasyl Pudchenko in recital – one of the most beautiful bass voices I have ever heard! Both singers should be signed up immediately – if they haven’t already been.

The sound is everything one could wish for and the booklet has a useful synopsis plus the sung texts in a transliteration of the original Russian and English translations. Well done, Naxos!

Göran Forsling







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