Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Sorochyntsi Fair (orch and completed Shebalin, 1931) (1874) [99:38]
Cherevik - Latko Koroshetz; Khivria - Bogdana Stritar; Parassia - Vilma Bukovetz; Kum - Friderik Lupsha; Gritsko - Miro Branjnik; Afansy Ivanovich - Slavko Shtrukel; Gypsy - Andrei Andreev; Chernobog - Samo Smerkolj
Slovenian National Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Samo Hubad
rec. World première, 27 November 1955, Salle Apollo, Ljubljana
Transfer from Philips 12" white label test pressings ABL 3148-49
Night on the Bare Mountain [10:56]
Alexander BORODIN
Polovtsian Dances* [13:34]
Vienna Symphony Orchestra; *Der Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna/Willem van Otterloo
rec. Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, 23 February 1958
Transfer from Fontana 10" white label test pressing EFR 2012
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 053 [60:46 + 54:14]
This is not going to be your first or only choice for Sorochyntsi Fair - a comic folk-supernatural opera somewhat in the tradition of Smetana. The sound, for all Andrew Rose’s transformational ministrations, still has a fragile shrillness up-close where modern recordings would have a fruity silkiness or at least be less shrill. It is however a magnificently vibrant event that emerges under the baton of Samo Hubad (b. 1917). Listen to the fierce fervour of the Slovenian choral forces to be heard in the Fair Scene and the finale to Act II (trs. 1 and 13 on CD 1). The viciously crashing attack of the orchestra at the start of Act 3 again affirms that this is not some routine run-through. The solo singing is of sturdy, passionate and flammable quality with vivid characterisation. The Philips team behind this ‘Iron Curtain’ recording did well to go with the risks associated with taking a technical team to this world premiere event.
There is no libretto or translation although a track-related synopsis helps the listener keep in touch with the Gogol-based narrative across three acts and four scenes. Gritsko is sung by Miro Branjnik. His meditation at the end of Act I is atmospheric and the solo bassoon makes a memorable partner. Effects are limited to some simulated stage snoring at the start of Act II and some spatial distancing - and depth as in Khivria with the priest’s son (tr.10 CD 1). Khivria’s Song - full of folk temperament - is spiritedly despatched by Bogdana Stritar. Good that there is practically no Slavonic wobble among these singers - clean technique predominates. Gritsko’s Dream Vision on CD 2 is none other than a choral-orchestral version of the work we know as Night on the Bare Mountain and suitably fearful, wild-eyed and supernatural it is too (tr. 2). Parassia’s meditation leads off with a plangent oboe as does Gritsko Meditation with its bassoon in Act I. Parassia uses twittering staccato as does the Priest’s son in his repeated wood-peckering ‘Gospodi’ in Act II. The opera in this version ends with a Hopak spun whirling celebratory attack.
Speaking of attack, it is not in short supply for the Vienna Symphony van Otterloo recording of Night on the Bare Mountain. The resonant acoustic also helps. The Viennese players are thankfully not so suave as to leach out the Russian accent of the piece. Also in stereo are the van Otterloo Polovtsian Dances this time with their usual choral contingent. These are just magnificently done with some nicely het-up clarinet playing. The almond-eyed seduction and the eruptive lava-heave of the Dances is fully in place and engaged.
The competition in the opera is not numerous and its availability is questionable. There’s the 1986 Esipov on Harmonia Mundi and the Yekaterinburg State Academic Opera Theatre/Yebgeniy Brazhnik version on Aquarius UL01. I have not heard these. I expected to find one of those Emil Tchakarov versions on Sony but could not see one. It would be interesting to hear an assessment from any Mussorgsky enthusiast who has these recordings.
I said at the start that this not going to be your first or only choice for Sorochyntsi Fair. I am not now so sure. It’s mono and is about 55 years old. Yet the qualities we look for - that ardent listening experience we want to repeat - are here in abundance.  

Rob Barnett 

The qualities we look for - that ardent listening experience we want to repeat - are here in abundance.