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Leopold STOKOWSKI (1882-1977) conducts scenes from Russian and German Opera
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Boris Godunov (Rimsky-Korsakov edition). Opera in 4 Acts with Prologue
Boris and Vaarlam, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass); Simpleton, Lawrence Mason (ten); Feodor, Raymond Cauwet (boy sop)
Prologue, ‘Courtyard Scene’, ‘Pilgrims Scene’, ‘Coronation Scene’
Act 1, ‘Monastery Scene’, Scene 2 ‘Orchestral Introduction and Vaarlam’s Song’
Act 2, ‘Boris’s Monologue’, ‘Clock Scene’
Act 3, ‘Polonaise and Garden Scene’
Act 4, Kromy Forrest, ‘Revolutionary Scene’, ‘Death and Farewell of Boris’
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Opera Choir.
Recorded San Francisco December 1952
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Parsifal, Opera in 3 Acts
‘Good Friday Spell’, ‘Symphonic Synthesis of Act 3 arranged by Stokowski’
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra. Recorded New York 1952
Reissued with the sponsorship of The Leopold Stokowski Society
CALA CACD0535 [79.34]

Stokowski was English-born of a Polish father and an Irish mother. He became an American citizen in 1915. He made the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra one of the world’s finest and gave first performances in America of many major works. Not renowned for his work in the opera house, he made orchestral transcriptions of major works and presented operatic excerpts at Philadelphia. These included, in 1929, the US premiere of the original version of Boris Godunov. However, for a series of performances in San Francisco in 1952, and the accompanying recording sessions from which the Russian component of this CD is derived, he reverted to the traditional Rimsky-Korsakov edition. Stokowski chose, as his Boris, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (b 1921) who at the time was rather overshadowed in this part by the formidable Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff. Rossi-Lemeni had a considerable, well toned, sonorous instrument which he could use, as here, with great variety of nuance and feeling. Like Christoff in his two studio recordings, Rossi-Lemeni doubles the parts of Boris the King and Vaarlam the Friar. For the latter (tr.6) he lightens his tone and is suitably roistering. However, more impressive is the variety of tone, expression and feeling he brings to the facets of Boris’s character so superbly expressed in this opera. In the ‘Coronation Scene’ (tr.3) Rossi-Lemeni is full toned and imperious, yet suitably distraught while not losing focus when Boris, part mad, confronts his conscience (tr.8). In Boris’s ‘Farewell and Death’ (tr.9) the singer conveys a full range of emotion and expression as he clasps and instructs his son and dies as the chorus chant in the background.

In these excerpts the chorus play a full and vibrant part. They are able to benefit from, and complement, the more luxuriant textures of the Rimsky edition which Stokowski handles with aplomb. The booklet gives a brief track-related synopsis and a transliteral libretto with English translation.

As to the Wagner, well, many people like orchestral arrangements and undoubtedly Stokowski was a master of the genre as is exemplified here. If you can listen to Act 3 of Parsifal without Gurnemanz’s solid tones, and with a lyric heldentenor as Parsifal, then you will enjoy what is here, albeit that the recording is rather drier than on the Boris tracks.

The 51 minutes of the ‘Boris Godunov’ excerpts on this CD, and the quality of the singing of Rossi-Lemeni and the chorus, justify the purchase of the disc. An added incentive is that highlights from the opera are not otherwise available, at least in the UK. Until recently we had the original version of the opera on Erato. This featured Raimondi in the title role conducted by Rostropovich.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Paul Shoemaker



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