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Alexander Kipnis (1891–1978)
Alexander Kipnis (bass); Anna Leskaya (soprano)(8, 10), Ilya Tamarin (8, 10), Orchestra and Chorus/Nicolai Berezowsky
rec. 1945-46
NIMBUS NI 7950 [68:17]

Experience Classicsonline



Alexander DARGOMÏZHSKY (1813–1869)
Rusalka:
1. Miller’s Aria [4:06]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)

Yevgeny Onegin:
2. Prince Gremin’s Aria [5:22]
Alexander BORODIN (1833–1887)

Prince Igor:
3. Prince Galitsky’s Aria: I hate a dreary life [3:48]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844–1908)

Sadko:
4. Song of the Viking Guest [3:35]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839–1881)

5. Song of the Flea [3:47]
Boris Godunov:
6. Introduction & Opening Chorus [4:30]
7. Coronation Scene [8:46]
8. Varlaam’s Song: Once upon a time … Come now comrades, fill up your glass [8:12]
9. I have attained the highest power [5:27]
10. Duologue between Boris and Shuysky … Clock Scene: Give me air, I suffocate [10:59]
11. Farewell & Death of Boris [9:45]

The Ukrainian bass Alexander Kipnis was certainly one of the foremost singers in his voice category for more than 35 years on both sides of the Atlantic. He sang all the great bass roles and was a noted Wagnerian. He obviously had a special affinity for the Russian repertoire and Nimbus have here wisely collected his Russian recordings from the mid-1940s. This is the late Kipnis – he was in his mid-fifties – but basses tend to be long-lived. He had preserved his magnificent voice admirably, considering the strenuous roles he had been singing since WW1. His was a true bass: large, black and with a powerful ring at the top. His only real contemporaneous competitor, Ezio Pinza, was a basso cantante (as was Mark Reizen, but he sang primarily in the Soviet Union*). Kipnis was a dramatic bass – but with superb ability to scale it down, sing softly, and then the penetrating, almost brutal edge was gone and replaced by warmth and intimacy. Gremin’s aria from Yevgeny Onegin is a wonderful example. And this reminds us that he was also a great Lieder-singer.

Several of the arias here are ebullient or dramatic, like the opening miller’s aria from Dargomïzhsky’s Rusalka and Galitsky’s aria from Prince Igor, where the typical Slavonic hardness of tone is noticeable. But he modulates it expertly and basically it is a very beautiful voice, slightly throaty at times. Evgeny Nesterenko was a worthy successor and before him, of course, Boris Christoff – even though he was Bulgarian.

The well-known Song of the flea has been sung by so many prominent basses but few have made it so visually. He tells the story and we can see his face expressions, his gestures, his leaning forward to include us in the story. And his laugh is infectious.

The rest of the disc – almost fifty minutes – occupies excerpts from Boris Godunov, which was one of his great roles, and hearing him here it is easy to understand why. The rather boxy recording could be a bit of a nuisance but it still manages to catch enough of Mussorgsky’s bold orchestration and the chorus seems well inside the music, though I have heard more perfect ensemble singing.

But it is for Kipnis we want to hear these extracts and he is formidable. I have been listening through the years to most great basses in this role, complete or in excerpts, and many of them have been superb: Kim Borg, Ivan Petrov, George London, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Evgeny Nesterenko, Matti Salminen, John Tomlinson and Ruggero Raimondi to mention a few that come to mind, but three singers stand out: Chaliapin, Christoff and between them – in time – Alexander Kipnis. Like the others he gives a full-size portrait of the tsar: the ruler, the tyrant, but also the weak and doubtful and finally caring and resigned. His monologue (tr. 9) is masterly, full of light and shade and he has many voices, from roaring to whispering, always singing off the words. In the scene with Shuisky (tr. 10) we also hear the lyrical and sweet voiced Ilya Tamarin and in the farewell and death scene Kipnis is deeply moving, singing with restrained beauty.

I hope Nimbus – or for that matter some other adventurous company – will give us more Kipnis: his highly esteemed Lieder recordings but also his earlier operatic recordings – he recorded even before the advent of the electrical process and I have an exceptionally beautiful Philip II monologue from around 1920. From the electric era there is some Wagner and also a magisterial Sarastro. In the meantime this Russian recital should be compulsory listening for every lover of the bass voice.

Göran Forsling


* Mark Reizen (1895–1992) was born into a Jewish family of mine workers, where every one learnt to play different instruments. He studied to be an engineer, was a soldier during WW1 and made his professional debut as a singer in 1921 as Pimen in Boris Godunov. In 1925 he came to the Marinsky Theatre in Leningrad and 1929-30 he toured Western Europe, where he also made some recordings in London. In 1930 he appeared as guest at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, where Stalin was so enthusiastic when he heard him as Mephistofeles in Faust that he immediately arranged for Reizen to move to Moscow, where he sang during the rest of his career. He retired in 1952 but his voice was still in splendid shape and as late as 1985, at the age of 90, he appeared at the Bolshoi as Gremin in Yevgeny Onegin. The occasion was filmed. Watch and listen and I am sure you will be as stunned as I was. GF


 


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