Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Vassily Gerello (baritone) Aleko; Olga Guryakova (soprano) Zemfira; Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor) The Young Gypsy; Mikhail Kit (bass) The Old Gypsy; Yurlov Capella; Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian. Includes Pushkin's Poem, 'The Gypsies' read in English by Michael York and in Russian by Vassily Lanovoy.
Delos DE3269 [two discs] [127'46]
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Aleko is possibly the finest of Rachmaninov's operas. Astonishingly, it was composed in response to a graduation exercise set by Arensky at the Moscow Conservatoire and dates from 1892. Written after a poem by Pushkin, Aleko is an effective number opera, fitting neatly onto one CD with a running time of about an hour.

For anyone who has yet to hear this piece, it may come as something of a revelation. Rachmaninov's Russian roots are at their clearest (the Borodin of the Polovtsian Dances hovers over the opening chorus). The orchestra is given many chances to shine, from the seductively phrased Women's Dance to the superb high violin articulation of the Men's Dance, and the proto-emotionalism of the Intermezzo. The Moscow Chamber Orchestra plays with full conviction throughout.

The baritone Vassily Gerello is an intensely musical Aleko, providing a beautifully sung Cavatina. The preceding Scene by the Cradle (with Olga Guryakova as Zemfira) is positively heart-melting. Mikhail Kit as the Old Gypsy provides a fitting sense of longing in his narrative. The chorus's contributions are uniformly excellent.

Järvi's performance on DG is only available as part of a three disc set (coupled with Rachmaninov's other two operas, The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini). It boasts a starrier cast (Leiferkus in the title role, with Maria Gulegina as Zemfira and Anne Sofie von Otter as the Old Gypsy: DG 453 452-2), but Orbelian's authentically Russian forces provide a fully complementary version.

The second disc consists of two readings of Pushkin's poem, The Gypsies, read in English by Michael York and in Russian by Vassily Lanovoy. Non-Russian speakers like myself will therefore only find half of the disc useful, and then only for one or two playings. The performance of Aleko, however, remains eminently recommendable.


Colin Clarke

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