Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) The Miserly Knight (1904) [59.06]
Misha Didyk, Peter Bronder (tenors), Sergey Murzaev (baritone), Ildar Abdrazakov, Gennady Bezzubenkov (basses)
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 2008/9 CHANDOS CHAN10544 [59.06]
Rachmaninov’s opera The Miserly Knight sets one of Pushkin’s four “little tragedies”. The story is of a poor knight, whose lack of wealth precludes him from partaking in courtly life. His father, the Baron, is a miser with cellar full of gold, who broods upon his beloved gold and rages in his mind at his son, whom he believes will squander it after his death. The son approaches the Duke to ask him for justice against his father, who happens to turn up just then. The son hides while the Duke talks to the Baron, in the course of which discussion the Baron slanders his son, accusing him of plotting his death, whereupon the son bursts out of his hiding place to defend himself against such lies. The Baron challenges his son to a duel; the son accepts, but the Duke intervenes and sends the son out of the room, only for the Baron to die from a seizure, his last thoughts on his gold.
The performance here is well-paced and well-proportioned; a wholly dramatic interpretation overall. The voices are well-differentiated. This is especially important as the two main dialogues occur between similar voice-types.
There is also a good balance between the large orchestra and the voices: the dramatic power of the latter makes an impact but never at the expense of the orchestra, the writing for which carries much important motivic material. The dramatic centre-piece of the opera is the Baron’s great soliloquy, which is realised admirably. The dialogues between the son and the moneylender, and the Duke and the Baron that are placed each side of the centre-piece are not overshadowed by this. This balance can be admired both at the poet’s and composer’s end and also at the performers’: all excellent and superbly done.
The booklet provides interesting background and detail about the work, with enough musical “signposts” given to enable a listener to absorb the work in an informed manner. It also includes texts. The presentation is all of the very highest standard, too, as one would expect from Chandos.
The Miserly Knight is certainly worth hearing, especially in as good a performance and recording as we have here.