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Boris Christoff - Russian Opera Arias & Songs
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839–1881)
Boris Godunov (rev. Rimsky-Korsakov):
1. Pimen’s Monologue [5:45]
2. Varlaam’s Drinking Song [2:35]
3. Boris’s Monologue [6:37]
4. Boris’s Farewell and Prayer [7:14]
5. Death of Boris [4:38]*
Khovanschina (compl. Rimsky-Korsakov):
6. Dosifei’s Aria [6:26]
7. Song of the Flee (orch. Rimsky-Korsakov) [3:14]
Alexander BORODIN (1833–1887)
Prince Igor (compl. Rimsky-Korsakov; Glazunov):
8. Prince Galitsky’s Aria [3:50]
9. Khan Konchak’a Aria [7:24]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844–1908)
Sadko:
10. Song of the Viking Guest [3:47]
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and of the Maiden Fevroniya:
11. Prince Yuri’s Aria [4:25]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Eugene Onegin:
12. Prince Gremin’s Aria [4:54]
trad.
13. Song of the Volga Boatmen [4:27]
14. The Siberian Prisoner’s Song [4:18]
Modest MUSSORGSKY
Songs and Dances of Death:
15. No. 4 The Field Marshal [4:54]
16. The Spirit of Heaven [3:18]
Boris Christoff (bass)
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden*/Nikolai Malko (1), Herbert von Karajan (2), Issay Dobrowen (3-10, 13), Wilhelm Schüchter (11-12); Gerald Moore (14-16)
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 3 December 1949 (1), 28 November 1949 (2), 19-20 May 1949 (3-5), 4 May 1950 (6, 10), 8 June 1950 (8), 5 May 1950 (9), 19 March 1952 (11, 12); No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London,  3 March 1951; Kingsway Hall, London, 5 October 1950 (7, 13)
Texts and translations included
EMI CLASSICS GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 3 92054 2 [78:28]

With advancing years Boris Christoff’s voice tended to grow coarser and more hollow but he always retained his unique ability to create deeply satisfying characters. In these early recordings his voice is sonorous and beautiful and has a baritonal brilliance that makes him one of the most glorious of basses. What impresses even more is that even this early his insight is all-embracing; it is hard to believe that when he recorded the three excerpts from Boris’s role in Boris Godunov in May 1949 – his very first recordings – he had not yet sung the role on stage. Chaliapin aside few singers have been more tortured in the monologue (tr. 3). In his farewell to Fyodor (tr. 4) one can hear life running out, his tone becoming paler and thinner. There are outbreaks of histrionics but most of the scene is soft and inward; all the more moving for that reason. In the prayer there is a flicker in the voice that suggests ‘the tears of a sinful father’ as the text says. The death scene is almost visual in its realism. I have loads of recordings of these scenes that I admire greatly, including later versions with Christoff: George London, Kim Borg, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Matti Salminen, Evgeny Nesterenko, John Tomlinson and even Ruggiero Raimondi. Picking a clear winner is well-nigh impossible but nobody goes so directly to the heart as this debut recording by the then 34-year-old Christoff. Before these three excerpts we hear his inward and old-sounding Pimen and Varlaam’s drinking song – the latter all brilliance and joie de vivre. On both his complete recordings of Boris he sang all three roles and was masterly in separating the characters.

Dosifei’s aria from Khovanschina is warm and noble against the bleak and ominous orchestra. In sharp contrast this is followed by the black humour of Song of the Flea with that diabolic laughter. In Prince Igor he catches to perfection the hedonistic and irresponsible Galitsky and the fundamentally noble Konchak. The song of the Viking Guest from Sadko offers some of the most glorious bass singing ever recorded and it is good to have Prince Yuri’s aria from The Invisible City of Kitezh, which is a rarity.

His Gremin is warm and genial and The Song of the Volga Boatmen is built in one long arc. In the three final songs with piano he shows further mastery from the intimate and deeply felt Song of the Siberian Prisoner via the rumbustious Field Marshal from Songs and Dances of Death to the inward and pain-racked The Spirit of Heaven. He was indeed a remarkable singer!

The usual, well-written appreciation by John Steane and the sung texts in Russian transliteration plus translations into English, German and French further heighten the value of this issue, which should on no account be missed by lovers of great singing.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 


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