> Modest Mussorgsky [CF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Boris Godunov

Completed and orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov
First performance St Petersburg, 8 February 1874
Boris Feodor Chaliapin (bass)
Tchelkalov Astride Barrachi (baritone)
Shiusky Angelo Bada (tenor)
Dimitri Dino Borgioli (tenor)
Varlaam Salvatore Baccaloni (bass)
Theodore Margheita Carosio (mezzo-soprano)
Lavretzky Dennis Noble (bass)
Tcheraiakovsky Astride Baracchi (bass)
Innocente Octave Dua (tenor)
Pimen Luigi Manfrini (actually Nicola Moscona) (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of The Royal Opera, Covent Garden
Vincenzo Bellezza (conductor)
Recorded live on 4 July 1928

Guild Music has an association with Immortal Performances which has an archive of first-generation historic broadcasts from the 1930s and 1940s. This initial release (the others are a 1943 Figaro, a 1937 Siegfried, and Act 2 of Parsifal from 1938) sets a standard hard to beat. All the discs are transfers from the original transcription discs' master tapes. Transcripts of the complete Toscanini broadcasts from the same period are also planned. So too is a complete and mouth-wateringly cast Ring, of which Siegfried forms a segment.

Pace Ezio Pinza, Alexander Kipnis, and Boris Christoff, there has never been, neither before or since, a greater exponent of the role of Boris than Chaliapin and this is a wonderful testimony to his portrayal. Despite the length of the cast (and the fact that, as Italians, they all sing in Italian, while he sings in his native Russian) it is Chaliapin who dominates it all. His prayer, farewell and death are totally riveting and agonising despite the passage of time - 64 years - which has elapsed. Apart from the excellent chorus no one comes within touching distance of even a mention. My one regret is that the conductor is not Albert Coates with whom Chaliapin had a singular rapport and whose interpretation of the opera was second to none. Though some at the time may have said that Chaliapin's voice had lost some of the quality it had possessed in the Beecham days of Drury Lane fifteen years earlier, all clearly marvelled at the nobility of the sound, the acutely dramatic realisation of the character, and the magnetic force which exerted itself on all around him, whether on stage or in the auditorium. He lived and breathed Boris and listening to this disc brings images to mind of Ivan the Terrible as portrayed in the Eisenstein films of the day. Chaliapin was a larger than life character who sang and acted a compelling and immortal performance, and this is what communicates down the decades. There is a remarkable feeling of understatement in his portrayal, small gestures, mezza voce, but full of intensity and laser-focused in sound. His death scene runs the full gauntlet of emotion, crazed, angry, fearful, remorseful in prayer but never losing eloquence. This has been a labour of love by the Guild team, Richard Caniell, with the aid of Keith Hardwick who supplied the missing Pimen Narrative, which was not recorded at the Covent Garden performance but taken from one sung elsewhere by Nicola Moscona. The source and restoration process is interestingly set out in an essay and reveals which parts have never been heard since 1928. It must have been the experience of a lifetime to have been there to hear it live, but we must now be grateful to Guild for recreating it for us today.

Christopher Fifield

See letter recieved from Richard Caniell regarding the Guild Historical Series

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