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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Mazeppa (1884)
Mazeppa, Cossack chieftain - Sergei Leiferkus (baritone)
Kochubey, Ukrainian landowner - Anatoly Kotcherga (bass)
Lyubov. his wife - Larissa Dyadkova (mezzo)
Maria, their daughter - Galina Gorchakova (soprano)
Andrey, a young Cossack - Sergei Larin (tenor)
Oriik, Mazepa’s henchman - Monte Pederson (bass)
Iskra, Kochubey’s friend - Richard Margison (tenor)
Drunken Cossack - Heinz Zednik (tenor)
Royal Opera Chorus, Stockholm
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. August 1993, Konserthuset, Gothenburg
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 5637 [62.58 + 66.14]


Tchaikovsky was a man of the theatre, whatever the enduring successes his other compositions have received. His contribution to the world of ballet and its development goes without saying. In opera too he displayed a conspicuous commitment throughout his creative life. His collection of fine operatic works have gained a secure position in the recorded and live repertories and are increasingly valued with the passing years. On the international front, the Pushkin-inspired operas Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades have long been established, but the other pieces too are making their mark.

First performed in Moscow in 1884, Mazeppa is also based on Pushkin, as Tchaikovsky himself explained: ‘I have reread the libretto and Pushkin’s poem. I found many of the verses and situations moving, and I now find myself at work upon the scene with Maria and Mazeppa, which in the libretto reproduces Pushkin’s text word for word.’ This emotionally charged scene was actually his starting point, and its expressive intensity is well captured in this recorded performance, thanks especially to the powerful performances of the two singers, Galina Gorchakova and Sergei Leiferkus.

Recorded in Gothenburg in 1993, the performance retains its vivid sweep in this new presentation. The story has some of the conventional operatic tensions between love and duty at its heart, while the political aspect is as important as the love interest. In this regard Järvi’s committed conducting is itself a central force, with the scenes shaped with a compelling urgency and direction. The Gothenburg Orchestra plays well in every way, and if the recording lacks depth and definition in demonstration terms it is still perfectly satisfactory.

Another highlight of the score is Maria’s poignant lullaby over the body of her dead lover Andrei. Make no mistake, this is among Tchaikovsky’s finest inspirations, tender and sincere, and Gorchakova delivers what the scene requires. As such this is surely the special experience, at the centre of the conception, that the composer intended.

Although Tchaikovsky’s surviving correspondence reveals that he was racked with doubts over the music he had written, much of what he achieved is worthy of the best of him, and the results are magnificent. This is perhaps the most important issue for the prospective purchaser to bear in mind.

In the title role Sergei Leiferkus is on the top of his form. The Russian qualities and timbre of his voice are just what the role requires, and the characterization is compellingly achieved. The other principal singers are scarcely less fine. Sergei Larin, in the tenor role of Andrei, may not have to express similar complexities of character, but the heroic tone he brings adds a real stature. Maria’s father Kochubey is sung by Anatoly Kotschberga, whose rich-toned bass also generates the strong personality the plot demands. Järvi and the orchestra really come into their own, in the centre-stage sense, during the fierce battle music that opens the Third Act.

This performance uses Tchaikovsky’s revised ending, more conventional in manner than his original version. It seems a pity that the opportunity was not taken to record them both - as for example, was the case with Charles Mackerras and his Decca recording of Janáček’s Jenufå.

The reissue has a nicely produced but ultimately disappointing booklet that includes a list of the characters and singers, plus a tri-lingual synopsis of the action. This is divided up scene-by-scene so as to coincide with the organisation of the cue points on the discs. Although this is fine so far as it goes, it is in no sense a substitute for a libretto, since some of the descriptions are very thin indeed. What the listener requires is to have to hand a copy of the Viking Opera Guide or, better still, the third volume of David Brown’s compelling and readable critical biography of Tchaikovsky.

Terry Barfoot


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