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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Eugene Onegin (1879) [141.43]
Nuccia Focile – Tatiana (soprano)
Dimitri Hvorostovsky – Eugene Onegin (baritone)
Sarah Walker – Madame Larina (mezzo)
Olga Borodina – Olga (mezzo)
Irina Arkhipova – Filipyevna (contralto)
Neil Shicoff – Lensky (tenor)
Alexander Anisimov – Prince Gremin (bass)
Francis Egerton – Monsieur Triquet (tenor)
Herve Hennequin – A captain (baritone)
Sergei Zadvorny – Zaretsky
St. Petersburg Chamber Choir
Orchestre de Paris/Semyon Bychkov
Recorded 1993
PHILIPS 475 7017 [70.36 + 71.07]


It is amazing how highly regarded recordings can simply evaporate from the catalogue. On its first release this 1993 recording of Eugene Onegin received high praise from Alan Blyth in the Gramophone, but was subsequently allowed to disappear. The good news is that Philips has chosen to bring it back at a highly affordable mid-price. Tchaikovsky’s opera is not the easiest to bring off on disc and it is heart-warming that this fine set is now available again.

Too often in the opera house the opening scene of the opera can seem rather bitty as it stops and starts rather too often. Here on disc Bychkov has a wonderful grasp of the ebb and flow of the music and the scene flows quite naturally. He never rushes but never lingers over-much. The whole of Act 1 is beautifully paced and constructed; one of the joys of this set is Bychkov’s shaping of the opera’s structure.

It helps, of course, that he has a wonderfully balanced cast. The Russian and non-Russians seem to blend admirably and form a fine ensemble and to my untutored ear the Russian language, as sung by the non-Russians, seems entirely satisfactory.

Sarah Walker makes a dignified Madame Larina, sounding young enough to convincingly have two young teenage daughters rather than the elderly middle-aged matron that is often portrayed. This attention to the sound quality of voices is something which makes this recording so admirable. Hvorostovsky brings just the right mix of warmth and disdain to his opening scenes. His Act 1 rejection of Tatiana contains just the right amount of warmth; this Onegin is correctly detached rather than nasty. It helps that Hvorostovky phrases the music with such fine distinction and has a lovely voice, to boot.

It could be argued, that Hvorostovsky was born to play Onegin; the revelation here is Nuccia Focile as Tatiana. Focile brings to the role a wonderfully focused tone quality with something of an edge, but sounds convincingly young. In Act 1 hers is a believably passionate young woman; without visual aids, Tatiana on disc can often sound a little too mature. Like Hvorostovky, Focile phrases the music beautifully. But I did miss that added sense of dark intensity that the best Russian sopranos can bring to the role. In the Letter scene this is a Tatiana, whose passion is still rather controlled, lacking in the ultimate abandonment.

Neil Shicoff’s otherwise admirable Lensky perhaps sounds a little too old; his outbursts in the first scene of Act 2 (Madame Larina’s party) are wonderfully emotional but sound a little too much the older man. This is a slight problem with all the