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Boris Christoff
CD 1 Italian Opera
CD 2 Russian Opera

CD 3 Russian Songs and Sacred Music
Boris Christoff (bass) with piano acc, orchestras and choir
rec. 1949 – 1955
[3 CDs: 70:19 + 71:56 + 72:25]

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Boris Christoff
CD 1 [70:19] Italian Opera
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Don Giovanni
1. Madamina! Il catalogo e questo [5:35]
Antonio CALDARA (1670 – 1736)
2. Come raggio di sol [3:12]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
3. Ite sul colle [10:13]
La sonnambula
4. Il mulino! Il fonte! … Vi ravviso [5:00]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
5. Sperate, o figli! … D’Egitto la sui lidi [4:58]
6. Oh chi piange? … Del futuro nel bujo discerno [4:47]
La forza del destino
7. Il santo nome di Dio [6:54]
Simon Boccanegra
8. A te l’estremo addio … Il lacerate spirito [5:53]
9. Che mai veggio! … Infelice … L’offeso onor [6:50]
Don Carlo
10. Ella giammai m’amo … Dormiro sol [9:14]
Arrigo BOITO (1847 – 1918)
11. Ave Signor! [3:55]
12. Son lo spirito che nega [3:48]

CD 2 [71:56]
Russian Opera
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Boris Godunov
1. Prologue: Coronation Scene [10:53]
2. Act 1. Pimen’s monologue [5:52]
3. Act 1. Varlaam’s song [2:33]
4. Act 2. Boris’s monologue [6:05]
5. Act 2. Clock scene [3:58]
6. Act 4. Farewell and Death of Boris [11:46]
7. Dosifey’s aria [6:22]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 – 1908)
8. Song of the Viking Merchant [3:46]
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh
9. O vain illusion [4:27]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Eugene Onegin
10. Everyone knows love on earth [4:55]
Alexander BORODIN (1833 – 1887)
Prince Igor
11. Prince Galitsky’s aria [3:52]
12. Konchak’s aria [7:23]

CD 3 [72:25]
Russian Songs and Sacred Music
Alexander SEROV (1820 – 1871)
1. Shrove Tuesday [4:39]
Traditional Songs
2. Song of the lumberjacks [5:00]
3. The Bandore [3:29]
4. Down Peterskaya Street [2:13]
5. Going down the Volga [3:40]
6. The lonely autumn night [5:22]
7. Psalm 137. By the waters of Babylon [5:25]
Mikhail STROKINE (1832 – 1887)
8. Prayer to St. Simeon [2:36]
Pavel CHESNOKOV (1877 – 1944)
9. Lord have mercy on our people [4:00]
10. The song of the twelve robbers [5:56]
Alexander GRECHANINOV (1864 – 1956)
11. Litany [6:02]
12. Siberian prisoner’s song [4:17]
Songs and Dances of Death
13. No 4 Field-Marshal Death [4:55]
14. The Grave [3:44]
15. Softly the spirit flies up to heaven [3:15]
LISHKIN (? - ?)
16. She mocked [3:32]
17. Song of the Volga boatmen [4:20]

Boris Christoff (bass)
rec. CD 1 Tracks 1(1952), 9 (1951) – Orchestra/Fistoulari; CD 1 Track 2 (1952) - Gerald Moore, piano; CD 1 Tracks 3-8 (1955) - Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera House, Rome/Gui; CD 1 Track 10 (1950) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Karajan; CD 1 Track 11 (1949) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Dobrowen; CD 1 Track 12 (1949) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Malko; CD 2 Tracks 1, 4, 5 (1952) — excerpts from the complete opera.; Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/Dobrowen; CD 2 Track 2 (1949) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Malko; CD 2 Track 3 (1949) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Karajan; CD 2 Tracks 6 (1949), 7, 8, 11, 12 (1950) - Philharmonia Orchestra and; Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Dobrowen; CD 2 Tracks 9, 10 (1952) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Schuchter; CD 3 Tracks 1-11 (1954) - Feodor Potorzhinski Russian Choir; CD 3 Tracks 12-15 (1951), 16 (1952) - Gerald Moore, piano; CD 3 Track 17 (1952) - Philharmonia Orchestra/Dobrowen;
NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI7961/3 [3 CDs: 70:19 + 71:56 + 72:25]

This tripartite entrant from Nimbus divides neatly into discrete repertoire areas. The first disc is given over to Italian opera, the second to Russian, and the third to Russian songs and sacred music. It really couldn’t be neater, or simpler. The recordings are from 1949-55.
There are numerous highlights, though the first disc cheats a touch opening with Madamina! Yes, it’s sung in Italian, but … Christoff however proves a Mozartean characteriser of great avuncularity. He is personable, human, neither a predator by proxy nor a buffo. It’s a jolt to go back to Caldara after this, but we do, and to Gerald Moore who accompanies neatly. The performance of Come raggio di sol is sonorous and grave if a touch overdone. But the sequence which follows really puts us on the right path. The ten minute span of the excerpt from Norma – this and the next five tracks are all with Gui in 1955 – attests to his great powers of nobility and dramatic characterisation. Nabucco confirms his wholly unhistrionic command of the Italian repertoire and his La Forza del Destino extract reprises these qualities whilst adding a quotient of perfectly gauged dramatic incision. The choir adds its own lustre to this extract into the bargain. Note too that the extracts from Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlo do not derive from the complete sets with Gobbi, under Santini in 1957 and ’54 respectively, but are from recordings with Gui and Karajan. Irrespective of this they and all the others crackle with the fervour and intense passion which Christoff brought to all his roles.
The second disc cannily creates a composite of extracts from Boris. The Prologue, Boris’ Monologue from Act II, and the Act II Clock scene all come from the complete Paris recording with Dobrowen in 1952. The interpolations come successively via one-offs with Malko (1949), Karajan (1949) and Dobrowen again but this time with the Philharmonia in 1949. The inescapable model here, inevitably, is Chaliapin, but acknowledging such a towering and authoritative presence is not in any way to diminish the individuality or power of Christoff’s haunting and magnetic singing. It says something for the allure of his voice that the succeeding arias are not eclipsed in the memory by the psychologically acute penetration of his Boris. The Rimsky is especially compelling and sustained with marvellous control, but all these extracts, brief though they can sometimes be, attest to Christoff’s immense powers of communicative esprit.
The final disc serves up 17 songs and examples of sacred music either with Moore once again, or with The Feodor Potorzhinski Choir. Predominately slow and sonorous, these are etched with gravity, depth and great feeling. Things do lighten for the ‘exhausted’ humour of Down Peterskaya Street but the dominant ethos of solemnity and powerful intercession provides a sequence of concentrated piety. A real highlight is Going down the Volga in which the chorus provides near peerless support for Christoff. Of the items with Gerald Moore in 1951-52, the Siberian prisoner’s song is imbued with an almost Chaliapinesque sense of despair and loss.
It ends a three CD set of breadth, but one that rightly draws attention to three individual strains in Christoff’s art. The booklet documentation is thorough, the transfers good.
Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Ralph Moore and Goran Forsling


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