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Len Mullenger:

Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93)
Eugene Onegin (Highlights).
Thomas Allen (baritone) Eugene Onegin; Mirella Freni (soprano) Tatyana; Anne Sophie von Otter (mezzo) Olga; Neil Shicoff (tenor) Lensky; Paata Burchuladze (bass) Prince Gremin; Rosemarie Lang (mezzo) Larine; Ruthild Engert (mezzo) Filipyevna; Jürgen Hartfiel (bass) A Captain; Günter Emmerlich (bass) Zaretsky; Leipzig Radio Chorus; Dresden Staatskapelle/James Levine.
DG Classikon 469 588-2GCL [DDD] [74'35]

With a playing time of an hour and a quarter, there is room on this disc for substantial excerpts from Tchaikovsky's beautiful and inspired opera, Eugene Onegin. James Levine's 1984 recording (originally issued on 420 959-2) is characterised by an appropriately full recorded sound and much gutsy playing from his orchestral forces.

However, (due in no short measure to his chosen soloists), Levine would not be an ideal choice for the full opera. The famous 'Ya lyublu vas' scene between Lensky and Olga is simply not Russian enough in spirit. The voices are just too light and lack the dark colourings their Russian counterparts can bring. This problem affects the whole enterprise: Mirella Freni takes the part of Tatyana and delivers a secure Letter Scene, without quite getting to the heart of the music. She succeeds much better in the lead in to Onegin's scene and aria. Unfortunately Thomas Allen seems to be warming up in this excerpt, and only hits full form when the chorus enters. Neil Shicoff in Lensky's aria, Kuda, kuda sounds similarly on the surface. I wish also that the ball scene had more sparkle and more of a festive feel: the recording shows a sense of strain at this point, which hardly helps.

The two excerpts from Act 3 are much better, due in no small measure to Paata Burchuladze's big sound and even bigger emotions in Gremin's Scene and Aria. The Closing Scene is impassioned and makes one wish the entire disc had been in this spirit.

If you do buy this disc and are tempted to explore the opera in its entirety, Solti's 1974 version on Decca 417 413-2DH2 or Bychkov on Philips 438 235-2PH2 both provide more passionate alternatives which fly closer to the spirit of the score.


Colin Clarke



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