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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama/Pique Dame) (1890) [168:50]
rec. live, 25 December, 1989, the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory
Yurlov Republican Academic Choral Capella
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Notes, track-list and synopsis provided in the booklet
MELODIYA MELCD1002549 [3 CDs: 161:12]

Having just come from reviewing the recording of Temirkanov’s live Verdi Requiem, billed as “In memoriam Dmitri Hvorostovsky”, I feel that this first-time release on CD – at least officially, from the master tapes - of a thirty-year-old, live, concert performance on Christmas Day starring the same singer might also serve the same purpose. He had just turned 27 and had that same year won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, having previously made his operatic debut in the West at the Nice Opera in the same role as he sings here. However, his is not the only name highlighted in the cast list; similarly emphasised is the great mezzo-soprano Irina Arkhipova, who sang well into her seventies and died in 2010. There are yet more famous and now deceased singers here, too, including Bolshoi bass Alexander Vedernikov, a fixture in Russian opera for many years who died aged 90 about a year ago as I write and Grigory Gritsyuk, whose firm, incisive baritone is a really striking asset to this recording; he was a first prize-winner in the vocal section of the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1986 and died prematurely in 2000.

To hear Hvorostovsky’s youthful baritone comes almost as a shock if you heard him in recent years just before and during the onset of his fatal illness when his voice was coarsening and losing resonance – whether because of his indisposition or age and wear, I could not say, but here it is in prime condition, clear, steady and deeply moving. He sings Yeletsky’s jewel of an aria “I love you, love you beyond all measure” wonderfully – except for a habit which grew as the years passed of sometimes drawing breath with a disturbingly raking sound. Lisa and Pauline are sung by two lovely artists; the notes rightly praise the Ukrainian soprano but, oddly, make no mention of the native Russian mezzo-soprano Nadia Romanova’s sumptuous voice. Datsko is thrilling in her Act 1 Arioso. A lusty chorus completes a first-class line-up. Distinguished tenor Vitaly Tarashchenko specialised in singing Hermann. His basic tone is rather plaintive and a tad constricted but he is very expressive and has excellent legato and breath control. This was a fine assembly of proper Russian voices here under a conductor steeped in the tradition.

This was Andrew McGregor’s Record of the Week in a recent BBC Radio 3 Record Review. It does not necessarily eclipse other highly recommendable versions; this opera has been lucky on record and we have excellent accounts from Gergiev, Tchakarov, Ozawa, Jansons, and back to the 1949-50 mono recording conducted by Melik-Paschayev. This one, like all of those, has relative weaknesses – in this case, a Hermann who is bettered by stronger-voiced tenors – and my own favourite remains the 1967 version conducted by Boris Khaikin, also issued on Melodiya in a neater cardboard slipcase format and with as vibrant a cast as you could wish for, including another baritone of the same class as Hvorostovsky in Yuri Mazurok and Irina Arkhipova, the Countess in the recording under review, doubling up as Pauline and a Shepherdess. Nonetheless, admirers of Hvorostovsky and this opera in general will not be disappointed by this one.

The three CDs are enclosed in cardboard slipcases in a handsome black and white cardboard box with a booklet providing a synopsis, track list and a note on the performance.

Ralph Moore

Cast list:
Hermann – Vitaly Tarashchenko (tenor)
Lisa – Natalia Datsko (soprano)
Countess – Irina Arkhipova (mezzo-soprano)
Count Yeletsky – Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Pauline – Nina Romanova (mezzo-soprano)
Count Tomsky – Grigory Gritsyuk (baritone)
Surin – Alexander Vedernikov (bass)
Chekalinsky – Alexander Dyachenko (tenor)
Chaplitsky – Vladimir Grishko (tenor)
Narumov – Oleg Klenov (bass)
Master of Ceremonies – Vladimir Grishko (tenor)
Governess – Tatiana Kuzminova (mezzo-soprano)
Maria – Lidia Chernykh (soprano)
Prilepa/ChloŽ – Lidia Chernykh (soprano)
Milovzor/Daphnis – Nina Romanova (mezzo-soprano)
Zlatogor/Pluto – Grigory Gritsyuk (baritone)

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