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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) complete opera (1890)
(libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky after the novella by Alexander Pushkin)
Gegam Grigorian (Herman), Maria Guglegina (Liza), Lumila Filatova (Countess), Sergei Leiferkus (Count Tomsky, Alexander Gergalov (Prince Yeletsky), Vladimir Solodovnikov (Chekalinsky, Olga Borodina (Pauline) Kirov Opera Chorus, Kirov Orchestra, conducted by Valerie Gergiev. (Stage production by Yuri Termikanov).

recorded in the Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, 1992. Video directed by Brian Large.
PHILIPS 070 434-9 [179 minutes]


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We have here to thank the ever busy Valerie Gergiev for this stunning production of Tchaikovsky’s working of the Pushkin tale. Gergiev seems to try to record almost every work in the repertoire of his various ensembles, where the record company is prepare to go along with his demands.

We all know that the record industry is pulling in its horns, and yet Gergiev’s releases come out with a regularity which one would be led to believe that there was no problem. Philips have us in their debt for the operas of many Russian composers, and the present issue is no exception. There have been recordings of Pique Dame before, and it is now even duplicated on DVD.

This is not the same performance as that issued by Philips on CD in 1992, as some of the principals were different. Also the CD performance lasts 166 minutes against the current 179 minutes. The CD however did not include curtain calls at beginning, through and at the end, so the time differences between the two performances will not be that significant.

An outstanding feature of this issue apart from the superb singing and playing is the production. This is of the old Russian School, which causes British theatre critics apoplexy when the Kirov Company is out on tour. I would far rather watch this type of production than the now fashionable idea of having a plain background splashed with bits of paint, looking quite as though a chimpanzee had been let loose with a paint brush.

This current issue is in every way a "traditional" performance and Hooray, say I. Needless to say, Brian Large makes everything he can of the magnificent setting, making for us a very satisfying opera experience.

This opera has had a very chequered history in recording, and at last here we have a performance which displays a sweep and epic atmosphere aided by superb playing and singing. Gergiev keeps the drama moving and is not afraid to keep the pace moving forward without delay which prevents stasis from setting in.

The documentation is more than adequate, giving as it does a track by track analysis introducing each passage by the first line of the libretto. The good thing about DVD is the ability to choose to have subtitles or not, and in this respect, Philips have provided these in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. Being a Unilingual Brit, I have not tried these out for accuracy but I am sure like most examples of this type of product, there will be one or two howlers in there somewhere.

This is, in my opinion, now the most desirable version in the catalogue of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, and the effect of the music is enhanced greatly by the superb performance, production and tasteful camera work of Brian Large.

John Phillips


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