Veteran collectors will have long cherished their copies of
EMI's three LP set of recordings taken from performances at Covent Garden
between 1926 and 1936 (RLS 742). That set contained substantial excerpts
from the 4 July 1928 performance of Boris Godounov, famous for preserving
almost the entirety of the title role as performed in that edition by
the great Russian bass, Feodor Chaliapin.
Guild and the Immortal Performances Recorded Music
Society have now gone to great lengths to gather on one disc all the
surviving sides made of that performance, now extended to a full hour-and-a-quarter,
though with some interpolations from elsewhere to fill in gaps in the
originals (more on these below).
The performance is sung in Italian (and a little Latin,
in the Revolutionary Scene of Act IV) by a largely Italian cast. Chaliapin
of course sings the original Russian text.
When EMI issued their excerpts they had to try to reconstruct
the text of the Italian portions of the performance by ear since they
seemed not to correspond exactly to any existing published Italian version.
The Guild set bypasses this problem by not including a libretto but
it must be said that the booklet is otherwise (except for some misspelling
of artists' names) very well done, including an extended synopsis cued
to the excerpts included, a discography of the sides recorded at the
performance, notes on the restorations made for this reissue, an article
on Chaliapin, and many photos.
The transfers are very well done. There is, inevitably,
some noise, especially prominent in the earliest scenes (or perhaps
the ear simply gradually adjusts). But, allowing for the limitations
and vagaries of instantaneous recording in the largely experimental
days of the late 1920s, the voices are wonderfully well reproduced in
this edition, better than the EMI and far superior to the version issued
in his "private" LP series by the late Edward J Smith (UORC 161).
There some inconsistencies of pitch. How much this
is due to the problems encountered in the originals (a number of scenes,
though recorded, were judged at the time too faulty to be issued) and
how much to the current restoration cannot be determined. In any case
the non-Chaliapin portions, particular from the Polish and Revolutionary
scenes, vary between a quarter-tone and a semitone flat. In addition
Pimen's narrative in the scene of Boris's death (taken apparently, though
nowhere specified as such, from a performance at the New York Metropolitan)
is slightly sharp.
Still this is probably as complete a rendering of this
important performance as we shall ever have, undistorted by sonic improvements
and presenting honest and full-toned reproductions of the originals.
That it preserves Chaliapin's greatest role as well as it does is a
tribute to the producers. At the price it should be in every serious
Calvin M Goodwin
See also reviews by Christopher
Fiefield and Robert Farr
Letter received from the
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES RECORDED MUSIC SOCIETY
We have been inordinate admirers of Calvin Goodman's two-volume book
on Edward J. Smith, the first of the "pirates" so called,
and we appreciated Goodwin's review of our release on Guild CDs of what
exists of Chaliapin's Boris. We do not agree, however, with his assessment
of a pitch variation which amounts to a semi-tone (thereabouts), a fact
he has continued to assert in our recent letter exchange.
Mr. Goodwin initially informed me that he based his calcula-tion on
his Technics machine, the digital read-out of which indicated to him
a semitone variance. Mr. Goodwin also offered as his reference (for
turntables), Michael Hemstock's book on Fernando De Lucia (The King
of Speed Problems), quoting Hem-stock that the difference between 78
rpm and 64 rpm is two full tones. Hence 7 rpm constitutes one tone and,
necessarily, 3.5 rpm equates to a full semi-tone. And yet Mr. Goodwin
later maintained that his offset of 5/10ths of a single rpm on his turntable
equated to a full semi-tone of pitch variance. When asked to address
this apparent contradiction, he left us with his belief that his Technics
machine indicated what it did, and that's what he continues to rely
on. But one doesn't have to have his Technics machine with pitch control
to determine the actual pitch deviation.
We decided to undertake an experiment, which music lovers with a pitch-variable
(readout) LP turntable can also conduct. If they play the Guild CD on
their CD machine and compare it to a commercial recording of Boris on
LP (such as the Christoff HMV Dobrowen recording), they'll find that
the pitch for the Kromy Forest Scene won't match until they reach 32.8
on the turnta-ble readout. That isn't a semi-tone off, it's a quarter-tone
(or, according to Mr. Goodwin's own figures, drawn from Hem-stock's
book, it's an eighth of a tone), inaudible to most mu-sicians (and most
music critics) and within acceptable broad-cast restoration tolerances.
Our turntable speeds have just recently been recalibrated and the variable
speed settings are dead on, as shown on a stroboscope.
After numerous exchanges, it became evident that because we do not
have a CD machine with pitch control, the two of us needed to find a
common method of measuring the variance. In conclu-sion, Mr. Goodwin,
who did not have a commercial Boris on LP, selected a work he knew well,
and on the turntable changed the pitch control to what he termed a semi-tone.
This he stated was achieved by changing his turntable pitch control
from 33.3 to 32.7 (a changed 6/10th of a rpm). He considered this speed
to represent a semi-tone in pitch discrepancy.
Contrary to Mr. Goodwin's assertions in his letter to us, claiming
that 32.8 represents a deviance of a semi-tone, Mr. Goodwin, in his
book on EJS (Volume I) on page 24, referring to EJS disc No. 114, states:
"The set plays a quarter-tone low at 33.3: a playing speed of
33.8 - 34 has been suggested to compensate."
In this finding, he asserts that a lapse of 5/10th (or 33.8 rpm) of
a tone constitutes a quarter tone but in his defense of his findings,
as to the speed deviation in the Kromy Forest (or Revolutionary Scene),
he states that this same 5/10th de-viation down to 32.8 equals a semi-tone.
We consider a semi-tone lapse to be grievous, therefore the 32.8 demonstration
that we conveyed to Mr. Goodwin and our quotation of his own language
in his book on EJS, should have raised questions in his assessment,
which it did not. This is most regrettable. I have long admired Mr.
Goodwin's work on the EJS series but we have every reason, in this instance,
to question and protest Mr. Goodwin's statements as to the degree of
Five tenths (5/10ths) of a single revolution does not support Mr. Goodwin's
finding of a semi-tone variance as to the Kromy Scene. Pimen's narrative
is also 5/10ths of a single rpm off, which is a quarter-tone. All this
within acceptable variance, for these ancient discs, often the result
of speed-drift in the analogue machine, though I, myself, wish there
to be no variation at all.
We are not disputing a critic's negative assessment, which are issues
of taste upon which reasonable people can often dis-agree, we are disputing
his facts. His assessment is unfair to the Guild release on a basis
that a simple demonstration proves.