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Yuri SHAPORIN (1889-1966)
The Decembrists - opera in four acts (1953)
Moscow, 1954, Historic Recording. Mono. AAD
PREISER 90574 [2CDs: 78.53+78.52]

Konrad Fyedorovitch 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, I. Petrov
Prince Trubetzkoi, Colonel of the Preobazhensky Life Guards, baritone P. Selivanov
Piotr Grigorevitch Kachovsky, tenor G. Nelepp
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. Pokrovskaya
Maria Timofievna, the Princess's housekeeper, soprano A. Ivanova
Stesha, a gypsy, mezzo-soprano V. Borisenko
Rostovtsev, an officer of the Egersky Regiment, tenor P. Tchekin
Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia, bass A. Ognivtsev
Count Benckendorf, bass F. Fokin
The General-Governor, bass V. Tyutyunnik
The Metropolitan Serafim, tenor I. Kuzovchikov
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 and others.
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 years ago).
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. They are:-

(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. ONLY LP

(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.

Rob Barnett


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 at:-



CD 1

1 Introduction (orchestral)
Act I - Scene 1 - The terrace of Princess Olga Mironova Tchepin-Rostovsky's country house.
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 expecting you!
Act I - Scene 2 - An inn on the high road, in the part reserved for the wealthy class.
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 peasants!
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 apartment.
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 Palace.
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 has become!
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 me?
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 destroyed
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 weather
16 Scena and Duet: Open, open, I implore you!
17 Chorus: Ah it is to be my fate, my destiny, my bitter fate?


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