Alexander DARGOMÏZHSKY (1813–1869)
1. Miller’s Aria [4:06]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
2. Prince Gremin’s Aria [5:22]
Alexander BORODIN (1833–1887)
3. Prince Galitsky’s Aria: I hate a dreary life [3:48]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844–1908)
4. Song of the Viking Guest [3:35]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839–1881)
5. Song of the Flea [3:47]
6. Introduction and 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 and Death of Boris [9:45]
This collection of all-Russian arias finds the celebrated Ukrainian bass just past his prime in his mid-fifties. By this time the voice has begun to loosen a little and occasionally sound a little rough. He had, after all, been singing an astonishing variety of heavy roles for thirty years.
All the electrical recordings here were made between 1945 and 1946. Despite the inevitable distortion in the crowd scenes from “Boris Godunov”, they permit greater clarity than we hear in the many acoustic recordings he made in earlier years. That said, the latter do, despite their sonic limitations, display his voice to greater advantage than these late recordings.
It was always a big, black bass of great resonance and with especially fruity low notes. I confess however that I am bothered by the occasional unsteadiness which obtrudes despite the splendour of his instrument. I have long been told by people whose opinions I respect that he was the greatest dramatic bass of his era but have always found that I have somewhat resisted that judgment. Nothing here causes me to change my opinion. Sometimes when he tries to sing softly the voice falters – as, for example, at the close of Prince Gremin’s beautiful aria, "Lyubvi fse vozrastï pokornï" on the penultimate “schastye”. It is still a very imposing and characterful voice but I prefer the dependability of his coeval basses with whom he is often compared: Pinza, Reizen and Pasero.
Nonetheless, he is clearly a great actor and a formidable musician. Despite his versatility, the bulk of this disc is devoted not only to Russian opera in general as his forte but specifically to his most famous role as Boris. This is a really striking assumption and as a bonus we get his Varlaam. The recording itself is constricted and some of the singing and playing is a bit scrappy; even so the majesty of his Tsar Boris emerges unscathed. In addition the supporting singers are impressive, especially the silky-voiced Shuisky, Ilya Tamarin. He is not as extrovert as Chaliapin or Christoff, nor as smooth as Reizen, but represents a middle way between the two - perhaps interpretatively closest to George London. He commands a remarkable tonal and dynamic range and wholly inhabits the role. He is also, to my ears, both a great deal steadier and even more refulgent of tone in these extended “Boris” excerpts compared with the four earlier arias from other Russian operas. Both the clock and death scenes are riveting when his snarling and declaiming compete with the applied effects of the best exponents of the role.
He brings the same variety to the comic arias but to totally different effect, pulling out all the stops in “The Song of the Flea” complete with manic cackling and an infectious inventiveness.
A compelling disc which should appeal to all lovers of great bass voices, especially those in Russian opera.
also review by Goran Forsling