Ryliev, a poet, baritone Al. Ivanov
Colonel Pavel Ivanovitch Pestel, of the
Vyatka Regiment, bass A. Pirogov
Captain A. A. Bestuzhev of the Dragoon
Life Guards, officer and poet, bass,
Prince Trubetzkoi, Colonel of the Preobazhensky
Life Guards, baritone P. Selivanov
Piotr Grigorevitch Kachovsky, tenor
Iakubovitch, Captain in a Dragoon Regiment,
bass P. Volovov
Prince Dimitri Alexandrovitch Tchepin-Rostovsky,
Staff Captain in the Moscow Guards Regiment,
tenor. V. Ivanovsky
Princess Olga Mironovna, Prince Dimitri's
mother, mezzo-soprano E. Verbitskaya
Madame Orlova, a neighbour, Elena's mother,
mezzo-soprano V. Smirnova
Elena, her daughter, soprano N.
Maria Timofievna, the Princess's housekeeper,
soprano A. Ivanova
Stesha, a gypsy, mezzo-soprano V.
Rostovtsev, an officer of the Egersky
Regiment, tenor P. Tchekin
Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia, bass A.
Count Benckendorf, bass F. Fokin
The General-Governor, bass V. Tyutyunnik
The Metropolitan Serafim, tenor I.
Sergeitch, a porter at the fortress of
SS. Peter and Paul. Bass N. Chegolov
A Major-domo M. Skazin
A night watchman, bass S. Kracovsky
First Peasant, tenor T. Tcherniakov
Second Peasant, bass S. Koltipin
People, soldiers, workers, peasants, serfs,
girls, gypsies, watchmen, policemen, guests
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bolshoi Theatre,
Moscow conducted by A. S. Melik-Pashaev
Yuri Shaporin’s grand opera The Decembrists,
a quarter century in the writing,
continues the exalted Russian lyric-heroic
tradition. Hardly a beat is skipped
in the lineage traced from Glinka’s
Life for the Tsar to Borodin’s
Prince Igor to Mussorgsky’s Kovantschina
and Boris Godunov to Tchaikovsky’s
Eugene Onegin to Prokofiev’s
War and Peace. Shaporin is rather
a conservative figure in this company
not that this matters. He writes within
a realm whose harmonic and melodic boundaries
were long ago set by Borodin and Tchaikovsky
with the lightest harmonic spicing from
Prokofiev. Interesting to note that
in his photograph (below) portraits
of both Borodin and Prokofiev decorate
Shaporin’s study wall.
Shaporin was born in the small town
of Glukhov near Chernigov in the Ukraine
just a year before Martinů,
Ibert and Frank Martin. His parents
were cultured: father a painter; mother
a pianist. St Petersburg was the scene
of his secondary and university education.
He was a law graduate but in 1913 entered
the St Petersburg Conservatoire emerging
as composer and conductor in
1918. His teachers were Nikolai Sokolov,
Maximilian Steinberg and Nikolai Tcherepnin.
He established himself quickly as a
dependable, original-thinking and resourceful
writer of music for the stage ... and
Leningrad was rich in theatre life and
new productions. This latter stood him
in good stead for his many film scores
- some eighty in total. With Maxim Gorky
and Alexander Blok (poets much associated
with the Revolution) he established
the Great Dramatic Theatre of Leningrad.
Between 1926 and 1932 he was at work
on a four movement Symphony - his only
Symphony. This was given its UK premiere
and broadcast live from the Queen’s
Hall on 23 January 1935. The conductor
was the redoubtable Albert Coates; himself
with strong Russian connections. The
Shaporin shared the programme with Borodin’s
Second Symphony (of which Coates made
a fine recording - transferred onto
the South African Claremont label some
Shaporin’s worklist is not extensive
but it is punctuated with various major
works of which this opera, the Symphony
No. 1 and a trilogy of epic Symphony-Cantatas
provide an obbligato to works of shorter
duration (songs, orchestral suites and
film music). The trilogy is worth noting
given that these works have been championed
and recorded by the late Evgeny Svetlanov.
(1) On the Field of Kulikovo
"Na pole Kulikovom", symphony-cantata,
op.14. M. Miglau (soprano), L. Avdeyeva
(mezzo), V. Ivanovsky (tenor), M.
Reshetin (bass), The USSR State Academic
Russian Choir / A. Sveshnikov, USSR
State SO / Evgeny Svetlanov D 024817-20
(2LP) ONLY LP
(2) Battle for the Russian Homeland
"Skazaniye o bitve za Russkuyu
zemlyu", oratorio, op. 17 L. Avdeyeva
(mezzo), V. Ivanovsky (tenor), I.
Petrov (bass), USSR State Academic
Russian Choir / A. Sveshnikov, USSR
State SO /Evgeny Svetlanov D 018961-4
- MONO version (2LP) S 01421-4 - STEREO
version (2LP) [or "C 01421-4"] also
EMI-MELODIYA SLS 791 - 2LPs. c/w Petrov:
In Memory of the Victims of the
Siege of Leningrad - Arvid. Janssons.
(3) How Long Shall the Kite
Fly? "Dokole korshunu kruzhit'"
oratorio. L. Avdeyeva (mezzo), M.
Reshetin (bass), The USSR State Academic
Russian Choir / A. Sveshnikov, The
USSR State SO/Evgeny Svetlanov D 014883-4
MONO version; S 0967-8 - STEREO version
also on Melodiya/MCA on MLD-32118
CD. CD and LP
The orchestral suites include his apparently
highly complex music for Zamiatin’s
play The Flea Op.8. The six movement
suite is scored unusually for woodwind,
horn, trumpet, 16 domras, 3 baians (a
type of accordion), piano, double bass,
flexatone, xylophone, timpani and other
percussion. It was written in 1928 and
who knows, perhaps Khachaturyan was
in some way inspired to include the
flexatone in the middle movement of
his piano concert because he heard the
Shaporin suite. The Flea suite
was recorded on a Melodiya 10"
LP by Fedoseyev (D 21173).
Shaporin wrote some fifty songs (or
romances) most of them setting poems
by Russian classical poets. A selection
can be heard on Russian Disc RDCD 15
015 (deleted but findable with moderate
persistence). There the singer is Zara
Dolukhanova caught at her very considerable
vocal zenith in the earlyish 1950s.
She is accompanied by Berta Kozel. The
songs are: Your Languid Southern
Voice, Everywhere - Above Forest
and Fields (both setting his beloved
Blok who provided the words for On
the Field of Kullikovo), I remember
the day (Tyutchev), The night
breathed coolness (Shchipalev -
the way Dolukhanova sustains the long-held
note diminuendo at the end on
the words Tvai vljubljónnyje
glazá down to niente is
masterful and deeply moving), Amidst
the worlds (Annensky) and Russian
Song (again from Dolukhanova a wondrously
lambent and steadily held final note).
These recordings were made in 1952 and
have been expertly and cleanly transferred.
The cast-list of The Decembrists
reads like a roll-call of heroes
of the Bolshoi stage including Alexander
Ivanov, Anatol Pirogov, Ivan Petrov
and Georgi Nelepp. There is some truly
meaty and resolute singing here; all
in the grand Bolshoi tradition.
The plot coincides with the War and
Peace exemplar: the fates of individuals
against the background of the tragedies
and (usually future) joys of the Russian
people. The grand mansion of Princess
Tchepin-Rostovsky. Her son, Prince Dimitri,
is unhappy about the conditions of their
serfs. The Princess chides him for his
revolutionary views and suspects that
he is in love. He is in fact in love
with Elena whose family owes money to
the Princess and wants to borrow more.
The Princess tell Dimitri to end the
relationship with Elena. Pestel and
Dimitri are in the army and their sympathies
favour a plot to throw down the Tsarist
autocracy. The revolutionaries (The
Decembrists of the title) including
other figures meet at a roadside tavern
to advance their plans. News of the
death of the Tsar at Taganrog reaches
the ears of the people. There is hope
that the new Tsar will be more enlightened
and introduce reforms. The conspirators,
all army officers, meet in Ryliev’s
St Petersburg apartment. One of them
is Rostovtsev who, when they talk about
using the grand declaration of loyalty
to take place in Senate Square the next
day, says that the conspirators are
mad and traitors. He escapes. Trubetskoi
is another of the conspirators but his
resolve has always been to establish
another constitutional monarchy while
the rest want a true republic. At the
ceremony in Senate Square (a massed
crowd scene very suitable to the vast
space of the Bolshoi) things go against
the conspirators, Trubetzkoi, whose
rallying call is crucial, slips quietly
away. There is a fight in which one
of the conspirators shoots dead a tsarist
general. The Marine Guards enter the
square and begin firing artillery pieces
into the crowd. The conspirators are
imprisoned. Dimitri is one of them.
The main insurrectionists are executed
but lesser figures such as Dimitri and
Bestuzhev are exiled to Siberia. The
beautiful Elena inveigles her way into
the Tsar’s grand ball, dances with him
and in a ruse worthy of that played
on Death by Savtiri to save her husband
Satyavan (Holst’s opera Savitri)
gets the Tsar to promise that she can
go with Dimitri into exile. The last
scene has the crowd singing the Hymn
of Liberation secure in the knowledge
that while they now march in chains
their names will live on as the first
to rise against the Tsar.
The orchestral introduction to the opera
immediately launches us into the rich
lyric Russian milieu spiced with strong
rhythmic material of passing similarity
to the final dance of Rachmaninov’s
Symphonic Dances (1941). The
Polovtsian flame of Shaporin;’s writing
can be clearly heard at the start of
Scene 2 (the Tavern scene) where, not
for the last time, Shaporin’s debt to
Borodin is clear in the deeply mined
lyrical strain of the choral singing.
The solos throughout are lustily sung
in stand-and-deliver splendour although
dynamic variety is sometimes lacking
perhaps due to microphone placement
decisions. Shaporin does have a way
with melody (just listen to his songs
for the clearest evidence of this) as
can be heard in the grandeur of the
sung line in tr.18 CD1 for the arrival
of Prince Trubetskoi. He also timing
of the great romantic lyrical release
is as strong as Tchaikovsky’s (CD1 tr.16
at 5.25). Act II Scene 1 with its calls
of look out! look out! uses both
distanced and close singing effects
and these are very well communicated.
In the foreground we can hear the valiant
singing of Vladimir Ivanovsky and Ivan
Petrov and in the distant background
the crowd can be heard: the very stuff
of grand Russian opera. Is it really
the Moscow regiment is a jaunty
populist cortege, full-voiced for the
chorus, blazing along at the canter.
These magnificent sounds are topped
off rather unnervingly with bird whistles
- a step too far to these Western ears
(CD2 tr.4). Other populist touches include
the presence of a concertina in the
final scena of Act II scene 3 (CD2 tr.7).
A lugubrious soulfulness is established
through a piano solo in CD2 tr 2 (Act
II scene 2). This rises in the orchestra
to a galloping pace with the song ‘O
Russia, My Dearest Country’, proud and
nobilmente and topped off by
braw contributions from trombones and
horns. When you hear this song for the
first time you somehow know that it
is this song that will end the opera
in a lachrymose blaze of refulgent glory.
And so it does.
Act III is set in the imperial ballroom.
The Mazurka scene (CD2 tr. 8) is very
populist but is deepened in line with
Prokofiev’s habit of somehow adding
psychological emphasis. Here Shaporin
lends the sharper edges of the mazurka
a gauzy softening and liquidity. The
mellifluous clarinet also plays its
part here. There is a robust hysteria
about these set-piece dance scenes amid
the chandeliers, polished parquet, evening
dress and glittering jewellery. There
is a ripe little violin solo by the
Bolshoi leader in the Waltz and Scena
(CD2 tr.10) to the Tsar’s words ‘Now
you will not escape me’ where the ‘unknown
masker’ is none other than Nadia Pokrovskaya
as Elena, the wife of Prince Dmitri
Tchepin-Rostovsky. Dmitri is sung by
Vladimir Ivanovsky who is also a soloist
in two of Svetlanov’s Melodiya recordings
of Shaporin’s grandly tragi-heroic war
cantatas On the Field of Kulikovo
(1937) and The Song of the Battle
for the Russian Homeland (1944).
Act IV (CD2 trs.13-14) is set in the
prison where Pestel (Anatol Pirogov)
is doomed to execution embraces his
friend Ryliev (Alexander Ivanov) also
to meet the same fate. The second and
final scene of Act IV (CD2 tr.15) has
the listener surrendering again to the
sentimental embrace of the earlier words,
Russian O Russia Dearest Heartland.
In the final scene (CD2 tr.16) there
is a tragic-victorious overtone with
the sleighbells lending urgent reiteration
and bitter emphasis to the weighty radiance
of ‘O Russia, My Dearest Country’ -
a darn good sing is had by all.
Preiser, specialist resurrectionists
in historic sound have made a very clean
and beefy job of this transfer. Very
rarely there is some shatter on the
highest notes where there is singing
under pressure. There are only a couple
of instances of this and they occur
on CD2. I do not know what Preiser’s
engineers worked from but it may well
have been a set of LPs. There is some
evidence of surface noise although for
the most part the background is astoundingly
silent. Outstanding results have been
secured and they are comparable with
those from Soviet Melodiya masters for
Chandos’s CD reanimation of Prokofiev’s
Story of a Real Man and more
recently Semyon Kotko.
There is no libretto from Preiser. However
the English-only 12 page booklet gives
a highly detailed synopsis under which
you can follow the plot with ease. Still,
it is a pity we could not have the sung
text in transliterated Russian with
parallel English translation. The notes,
written by Edward Clark in 1958 (presumably
to go with the set of three LPs on Odeon-Parlophone),
are helpfully full.
Who were The Decembrists? The
Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
2001 defines them as:-
In Russian history, members of secret
revolutionary societies whose activities
led to the uprising of Dec., 1825,
against Czar Nicholas I. Formed after
the Napoleonic Wars, the groups comprised
officers who had served in Europe
and had been influenced by Western
liberal ideals. They advocated the
establishment of representative democracy
but disagreed on the form it should
take; some favored a constitutional
monarchy, while others supported a
democratic republic. Their poorly
organized rebellion was precipitated
by the confusion surrounding the succession
to the throne on the death of Alexander
I. The more moderate members persuaded
several regiments in St. Petersburg
to refuse their oath of allegiance
to the unpopular Nicholas and to demand
that his elder brother, Constantine,
who had secretly renounced the throne
in 1822, be made czar and grant a
constitution. The rebels marched to
Senate Square and were crushed by
artillery fire. Five of their leaders
were later executed. The Decembrists'
insurrection made a profound impression
on Russia. It led both to the increasing
police terrorism of the czarist government
and to the spread of revolutionary
activity among the educated classes.
If you would like to know more about the
Decembrists and their ultimate fate have
a look at:-
You can find a little more about Shaporin
FOR THE DECEMBRISTS - PREISER
1 Introduction (orchestral)
Act I - Scene 1 - The terrace of Princess
Olga Mironova Tchepin-Rostovsky's country
2 Scena and Chorus: Ah, is it
to be my destiny
3 Scena and Chorus: What boredom,
what unbearable boredom
4 Scena and Arioso: Still this slavery
5 Scena and Quartet: You sing fine
praises of your dear friend
6 Scena and Aria: Pestel! I was not
Act I - Scene 2 - An inn on the high
road, in the part reserved for the wealthy
7 Scena: There are a great many policemen
at the fair!
8 Scena and Arioso: Dimitri Tchepin!
What a coincidence!
9 Scena and Couplet: Bestuzhev! Where
are you from?
10 Scena, Arioso and Quartet: Your
words inflame my soul
11 Scena: Eh! Who's there? Evstigni!
Act I - Scene 3 Fairground on the road
between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
12 Scena and Chorus: Oh! In Taganrog!
There a terrible thing happened!
13 Scena: Go home, go home, you clumsy
14 Scena: Knock, little rattle
15 Scena and Duet: Where is she?
Elena! Is it really you?
Act II - Scene 1 13th December, 1825.
The Decembrists are assembled in Ryliev's
16 Chorus: Comrades! Comrades! The
time has come for action
17 Scena and Arioso: What passion
fills your souls!
18 Scena: Prince Trubetzkoi has arrived!
19 Scena: Good evening, friends
20 Scena: Nastenka! My little daughter!
1 Aria, my dearest country
2 Scena: Look out! Look out!
Act II - Scene 2 A room in the Winter
3 Monologue - I have come to the
throne at a difficult time
Act II - Scene 3 The Senate Square near
the Peter the Great monument.
4 Is it really the Moscow Regiment?
5 Scena and Chorus: Comrades! The
Moscow Regiment is in position!
6 Scena and Arioso: Why are we waiting?
7 Scena: Look, Look! The general!
Act III A large ballroom in St. Petersburg.
8 Mazurka and Scena: My last hope,
perhaps a futile one
9 Scena: How tedious high society
10 Waltz and Scena: Now you will
not escape me, unknown masker!
11 Scena: Your Highness! Here is
the verdict of the High Court
12 Scena: What did you want to ask
Act IV: Scene 1 - A cell in the fortress
of SS. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg.
13 Arioso: This is the end! We are
14 Scena and Arioso: Daybreak has
come... the execution is near
Act IV: Scene 2 - The Castle of Petropavlovsky:
In the central court.
15 Scena and Arioso: Oh, you awful
16 Scena and Duet: Open, open, I
17 Chorus: Ah it is to be my fate,
my destiny, my bitter fate?