> RACHMANINOV Aleko 4534532 [RB]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Aleko - opera in one act
Aleko - Sergei Leiferkus
Young Gypsy - Ilya Levinsky
Old Gypsy - Alantoli Kotscherga
Zemfira - Maria Guleghina
Old Gypsy Woman - Anne Sofie von Otter
Gothenburg Opera Chorus/Martin Andersson
Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
rec Gothenburg Concerthall, Aug 1996
DG 453 453-2 [58.19]


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Credit to Volvo for their perceptive decision to support this recording which was made in 1996 and has taken five years to reach the catalogue.

An early work, the opera Aleko, is closely allied in style to the music of Tchaikovsky and Borodin. Järvi does nothing to mask this. The Women's Chorus (tr 2) has the lilt of the Polovtsian Dances. Balakirev can be glimpsed in the long Duet and Finale (track 13 8.40). Sergei Leiferkus is in gloriously firm voice struck deep into the permafrost of the Steppe. Time and again, when listening to Aleko, I thought of Eugene Onegin: we know that Rachmaninov considered Tchaikovsky a god.

If you know Leiferkus's role in the Chandos recording of the complete Rachmaninov songs you will know what to expect. The voices do not have the field to themselves. The role of Zemfira is taken by the soprano Maria Guleghina who shares the rare vocal qualities of Leiferkus - tight control, an expressive intelligence and sound technique. In a world awash with sopranos unable to hold a steady note and subjugating pronunciation to the demands of vocal technique voices such as Guleghina's must be celebrated.

Listen out also for the leer and sneer of the brass in the Scene and Chorus (track 4). The operatic stuff is interspersed with various purely orchestral interludes: the prelude, the dances for women and for men, and the Intermezzo - all typical Previn fare and likely to be pretty familiar.

The recording is made in the big, though not dwarfing, acoustic of Gothenburg Concert Hall. As a performance it has, overall, the stamp of the authentic Russian approach. By the way Gothenburg and Göteborg are the same place. This is the same orchestra and conductor who recorded the first two Steinberg symphonies - also for DG.

Competition? I can recall only last year's Delos (with the Pushkin drama spoken in Russian and in English) review and a Balkanton recording of this work although there may be others. From what I recall of that Bulgarian recording this one is the clear superior and makes an easy first pick subject to checking the Delos.

Rather like the yet more impressive and passionate Francesca da Rimini and The Miserly Knight this opera will not take up a full evening. It would however pair well with either of these others though would sharply benefit from the passionate contrast delivered by Francesca.

Rob Barnett

This disc is also available as part of a three disc set


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