> Moussorgsky - Boris Godounov [RF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Modest MOUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Boris Godounov (Rimsky edition)
Prologue, Scenes from Acts 2 and 3, Act 4. Sung in Italian.
Immortal Performances Series.
Boris: Feodor Chaliapin (bass), Varlaam: Salvatore Baccaloni (bass), Dimitri: Dino Borgioli (ten), Pimen: Nicola Moscana: (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, London/ Vincenzo Belleza.
Rec. Live performance July 4th 1928 (plus interpolations)


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This series, launched in January 2002, aims to be "The Finest in Broadcast Recording". The majority of the first releases, and I suspect many of those in future, derive from NBC broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, dating from the 1930s and 1940s. This is an early exception and is of a very famous performance featuring (and dominated by) the great Feodor Chaliapin in the name part. In a booklet note, the progenitor of the series, Richard Caniell, states that 21 masters were made of the performance. However, he lists only 20, giving DB or Vic numbers and noting those damaged, never released, as well as those issued on 78s. This information seems too derive from Keith Hardwick, widely recognised as the great miner, and restorer, of the E.M.I. archive, and consultant to this series. Where no master was made, as in the case of Pimen's narrative in Act 4, in the interests of completion, an interpolation has been made from another recording; in this case one also sung in Italian by Nicola Moscana. Where the master was damaged, Caniell has inserted (as in " I am oppressed" from the Prologue) an extract from the 1931 recording under Albert Coates.

The reason for all the effort in bringing forward this issue is the presence of Chaliapin, who was described by Toscanini as the greatest singer ever to appear under his baton. Also a very great actor, he could distort his vocal performance to suit his interpretation (Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust). Born in 1873, he first sang Boris in 1898 and was aged 55 at the time of this recording. None-the-less it is his vocal performance that dominates this CD, which includes all Boris' arias and scenes. Chaliapin's voice is strong and full toned albeit lacking some of the sap that is to be discerned, despite recording limitations, in earlier recordings, examples of which can be found on EMI References CDH 761009. What made Chaliapin arguably the greatest singer of the century was his capacity to convey a character in all moods and few characters in opera are as complex in this respect than Czar Boris. The way Chaliapin colours and covers his tone, and varies the stress on the words, brings the Czars' many moods to life.

The other parts are all well sung with the buffo bass of his time, Baccaloni, giving Varlaam plenty of presence and character. The recording has good orchestral sound and the conductor supports his singers well. In order not to lose vocal and instrumental overtones, it is the policy of the series not to remove clicks etc. Whilst some such noises are present (tr .1 2'50"), I did not find these to be excessive or disturbing. It must have been a memorable night at the opera!

The booklet provides a synopsis with track points, as well as notes on Chaliapin and source and restoration details.

Robert J Farr

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