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Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829 - 1894)
The Demon, opera in prologue and three acts (1871) [142.29]
text by P. Viskovatov after the poem by Lermontov.
Sung in Russian.
Tamara - Tatiana Talachadze
The Angel - Elena Gribova
The Demon - Alexey Ivanov
Prince Goudal - Sergei Krassovsky
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow/Alexander Melik-Pashayev Recorded in Moscow, Russia, 1950 ADD
Track list and synopsis in Cyrillic Russian and English; no texts. Photos of singers.
GREAT HALL MVT CD 030-031 [71.40 + 70.49]


While Franz Liszt and I find little to admire in the music of Anton Rubinstein, the late Steve Richards, friend and impressionistic painter, rated him as his very favourite composer and would collapse into quiet sobs of ecstasy over the Ocean Symphony. I could never reconcile Steve’s strong identification with Rubinstein’s peculiar stuffy didacticism with the brilliant splashes of colourful clouds which Steve painted. Prokofiev’s mother thought Rubinstein was a much better piano composer than Tchaikovsky, but, then, some of Tchaikovsky’s solo piano pieces are not his best music.

This work is certainly the best music by Rubinstein I’ve ever heard. It is effective as a sound drama with pleasant songs and many ingenious orchestral/choral effects. The voices are close to the microphone and the drama in the ensembles is vivid and arresting. Ivanov’s voice has a quality reminiscent of Sergei Leiferkus and he is the focus of the drama.

In this drama the beautiful Tamara, protected by an Angel, is desired by the Demon, but when she rebuffs him he conjures up a storm to kill Prince Goudal, her betrothed. When he approaches her again she flees to a convent, but he follows her and promises to give up being bad if she will consent to be his. The Angel grants Tamara death rather than be tempted, and the bitter Demon vows to be twice as bad from then on.

The monophonic sound has wide frequency and dynamic range — not too different from what Western companies were achieving in 1950 — and has been lovingly restored with noise removed. For intelligibility, the sound has been brightened which makes for some rawness, but, even though there is some audible distortion on peaks, the sound remains quite listenable.

Paul Shoemaker

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