Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Boris Godunov – Musical Drama in four parts with prologue and epilogue after Pushkin's drama (1869-1874, rev. Rimsky-Korsakov and Ippolitov-Ivanov, 1896-1908) [189:42]
Boris Godunov – Yevgeny Nesterenko (bass)
Fedor, child of Boris – Olga Teryushnova (mezzo)
Xenia, child of Boris – Elena Shkolnikova (soprano)
Nurse, Xenia's servant – Nina Grigorieva (alto)
Prince Vassily lvanovich Shuisky – Konstantin Lisovsky (tenor)
Shchelkalov – Alexander Voroshilov (baritone)
Pimen, the monk / pilgrim – Anatoly Babykin (bass)
Grigory (fictive king) – Vladimir Atlantov (tenor)
Marina Mnishek – Elena Obraztsova (mezzo)
Rangoni – Yuri Mazurok (bass)
Varlaam – Artur Eisen (bass)
Missail – Konstantin Baskov (tenor)
Hostess – Larisa Nikitina (mezzo)
Simpleton – Alexei Maslennikov (tenor)
Nikitich – Stanislav Suleymanov (bass)
Khrushchov, Boyar – Alexander Arkhipov (tenor)
Mitukha – Nikolai Niziyenko (bass)
First woman - L.Yurchenko
Second woman - N.Novoselova
Choir of the Bolshoi Theatre/A.Rybnov
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Mark Ermler
rec. 1982, re-mastered 1992, 2012. stereo, ADD, originally issued Chant du Monde/Melodiya
12 pp notes and full synopsis
full track-list below
ALTO ALC 2504 [3 CDs: 61:22 + 49:14 + 79:06]
The sound from this set leaps out at you: honest, direct, unapologetic and with natural impact. It’s all excitingly done despite a degree of ironing out of dynamic extremes apparent from track 1 of CD1 where soulful Borodin-like woodwind solos contrast with virile interlaced solo and massed choral interlaced voices. The bolder brass writing once or twice over-reaches itself with a veneer of close-up analogue ‘crumble’ but the benefits massively outweigh such passing lapses.
This is a Bolshoi event so theatricality is a given. Ermler (1932-2002) was an habitué of the theatre whose involving brazen and tender musicality has been proven again and again. Try his Tchaikovsky ballets (Sony) and Onegin (TDK) as well as his Prokofiev Story of a Real Man (Chandos) – also with the Bolshoi and from as early as 1961. I would love to hear his Melodiya Prince Igor but it appears to have dropped from sight.
The possessed and bell-haunted manic quality of the Prologue – Scene Two (CD1, tr. 4) communicates with that gripping combination of uncontrollably galloping violence and exciting vitality. Melodramatic yet convincing doom is also present in the weave (CD2 tr.8) but other impressions float free, including pre-echoes of Sibelius’s string writing in En Saga and Lemminkäinen (CD1 tr.6 4:17). Indeed some of the solo voice writing recalls the operatic confidence of Sibelius in Kullervo (CD 2 tr. 1). Listen to Elena Shkolnikova as Xenia, both for drama and exhilarating joyous agility (CD 2 tr. 2). That same beaming innocence also dances out from the women’s choir in Act 3 scene 1 (CD 2, tr.9). This most enjoyable performance reminds us that this is Rimsky’s orchestration rather than the urtext now used; even the versions by Shostakovich (1940) and Karol Rathaus (1952) appear to have lost any ground they might once have had. The signature of some of the more carefree choral writing is related to Rimsky’s operas of his folk phase. The hopeless, guilt-ridden and panicky Boris is portrayed with complete conviction by Nesterenko in the mechanical clock scene. This reminds one of how revolutionary Mussorgsky was. Much of this episode has the effect of neurotic writing from at least a century later. As remission from all this neuroticism we get a ladle-full of catchy jollity in the Polonaise. It’s a track (CD 3 tr. 3) you want to play again even if it would disturb the storyline. Soon, however, we are back to shadows and angst. This is portrayed in bright primary colours as in Act 4 sc. 1 (CD3 tr.7) by a children’s chorus drilled to wild-eyed precision. It’s not the last time we encounter this. It is also to be heard in the memories of Night on the Bare Mountain at the start of tr. 11 of CD 3 – where Boris’s nightmares visit him like murderous harpies. The difference between this and many Western sets is the difference between Kondrashin’s Melodiya Shostakovich and that of Haitink. There’s something fierce, abrasive, gaudy and primitive about the Soviet version which no amount of sophistication can recompense. The experience brings back fond memories of that rather drably boxed Melodiya LP set from the 1960s which included Ivan Petrov and Irina Arkhipova as conducted by Melik-Pashayev.
The Alto roster includes some of the deservedly great Soviet singing names of the 1970s and 1980s and not a few from earlier years. The veteran Eisen had a long singing career but here also are greats such as Nesterenko, Atlantov and Mazurok - all three in verdant voice. The last two have a headily Italianate squilla or something very close in Russian terms. Three of these four great male singers (not Atlantov) were to re-appear in Lazarev’s Bolshoi Godunov only five years later (Warner).
It’s a real pity that we do not have a libretto and translation but James Murray’s pretty detailed synopsis is better than a consolation prize.

Rob Barnett

A Bolshoi recording - theatricality, both brazen and tender, is a given.
  Full Track-List
CD 1 [61:22]
Prologue - Scene One
1. Nu, shtozh vy? 6.31
2. Pravoslávnyye! nye umolin boyárin! 3.10
3. Sláva tebyé, tvorstu vsevýshnemnu, 2.59
Prologue – Scene Two
4. Da zdrávstvuet tsar Boris Feódorovich! 4.46
5. Skorbít dusha! 4.15
Act One - Scene One
6. Yeshchó odnó poslyédneye skazánye 4.52
7. Bózhe krépky, právy 5.16
8. Nye syétuy, brat 4.17
9. Davnó, chestnóy, otyéts 5.00
Act One – Scene Two
10. Poymála ya siza seleznyá 5.40
11. Kak vo górode býlo vo Kazáne 7.06
12. Vy shto za lyúdi? 7.24
CD 2 [49:14]
Act Two
1. Gdye ty, zhenikh moy 5.28
2. Skázochka pro to i pro syo 1.32
3. Chevó? Al lyúty zvyer 1.30
4. A ty, moy syn 1.54
5. Dostig ya výshey vlásti 4.49
6. Ay, kysh! 4.53
7. Velíky gosudár, chelóm byu 7.20
8. Uf! tyazheló! 3.48
Act Three – Scene One
9. Na Víslye lazúrnoy, 4.42
10. Skúchno Marínye 3.30
11. Akh, éto ty, moy otyéts 9.42
CD 3 [79:06]
Act Three – Scene Two
1. V pólnoch……….v sadú…u fontána 3.01
2. Tsaryévich! 6.48
3. Polonaise (orchestra)… Váshey strásti ya nye vyéryu 3.48
4. Iezuit lukávy 2.22
5. Dimítry! tsaryévich Dimítry! 11.26
Act Four – Scene One
6. Chto, otosha ovyednya 4.17
7. Trrr, trrr, trrr, trrr 8.08
Act Four – Scene Two
8. Shtozh? poydóm na golosá 5.56
9. Ya sózval vas, boyáre 1.57
10. Smiryénny ínok 4.35
11. Oy; dúshno! dúshno! 5.41
12. Zvon! Pogrebálny zvon! 4.01
Act Four – Scene Three
13. Valí syudá! 4.41
14. Sólntse, luná pomyérknuli 3.40
15. Domine, domine, salvum fac 4.13
16. My, Dimítriy Ivánovich 4.24