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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Queen of Spades (1890)
Hermann – Misha Didyk (tenor)
Yeletsky – Alexey Markov (baritone)
Lisa – Tatiana Serjan (soprano)
Countess – Larissa Diadkova (contralto)
Tomsky – Alexey Shishlyaev (baritone)
Chor und Symphonieorchester der Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich, 2014
BR KLASSIK 900129 [3 CDs: 66:40 + 55:18 + 46:45]

When it comes to Russian opera, pairing a Russian cast of singers with a non-Russian orchestra doesn’t always bring unalloyed benefits. However, it was the orchestra’s performance that impressed me most about this set. The Bavarian RSO have taken their famous sound for Beethoven, Bruckner and Brahms, and put it as far away from themselves as they could manage, achieving a sound of rich darkness and a few elements of grit, which I found to be just about perfect for Tchaikovsky’s westernised-Russian-sound-world. The winds, in particular, have a nicely grimy element to them, which you’ll pick up right from their first appearance in the prelude, and the strings carry Slavic emotional weight that is, at times, overwhelming. Nowhere is this finer than in the threnody that opens Act 3, and as they drift upwards in Hermann’s death scene the impact is sensational. They also carry the weight in the love music, and Jansons shapes those encounters with consummate mastery. He also paces the critical scene in the Countess’s chamber as though it were a psychological thriller, and he keeps things going through the more dramatically expendable moments such as the opening scene in the Summer Garden, or the Act 2 Pastorale. The German chorus, too, cover themselves in glory and inhabit each of their roles with thrilling immediacy. The women sound appropriately matronly in the opening scene and the soldiers sing with brilliant immediacy in the gambling house, before transforming themselves into a chorus of Orthodox Monks for their final phrase. Bravo to all involved.

The singers are a more mixed bag, but you’re in safe hands with the two lovers. Misha Didyk, who so impressed me in the Liceu film of this opera, has lost none of his latent power as Hermann. His voice is dark and baritonal, in the way of many Russian interpreters of this role, but one definite benefit he brings is the sense of volcanic power lurking just below the surface. There is danger in this Hermann and, while it’s never made explicit, it’s a continual threat, surfacing most ominously in the moments after the Countess’s death. Tatiana Serjan is also very good as Lisa, rising to a peak of grandeur for her final aria before her suicide, which is very moving. The two big duets that the lovers have are the highlights of the set, with a perpetual sense that these are two doomed individuals locked into something that is bigger than either of them.

The others are less convincing, though. Larissa Diadkova’s Countess is pretty characterless, and there is no sense of dark power in her bedroom scene. It doesn’t help that her French pronunciation is all but non-existent. Likewise, Alexey Markov’s Yeletsky sings the notes well, but his sense of phrasing is very choppy, and his big aria suffers for being too broken up and losing all sense of legato. For those reasons this won’t be a first choice Queen of Spades, for all its advantages; but it’s a worthy memento of what must have been some very engaging concerts, the applause for which is retained, by the way. Rostropovich and Gergiev remain the top choices, though for entirely different reasons.

Simon Thompson

 

 




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