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Beethoven Piano Concertos


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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
L’Amour des trois oranges, opera in four acts and a prologue, Opus 33 (1921)
le Roi de Trèfle: Latko Koroshetz (bass); le Prince: Janec Lipusek (tenor); la Princesse Clarice: Bogdana Stritar (mezzo); Léandre: Danilo Merlak (bass-baritone); Truffaldino: Drago Chuden (tenor); Tchélio: Zdravko Kovac (Bass); Fata Morgana: Vanda Guerlovich (soprano); Linette: Vanda Zikherl (mezzo); Nicolette: Bogena Glavak (soprano); Ninette: Sonja Kochevar (soprano)
la Cusinière: Friderik Lupsha (Bass); Farfarello: Vladimir Dolnichar (baritone); Sméraldine: Elza Karlovatz (mezzo); le Maître de Cérémonies: Slavko Shtrukel (tenor); le Hérault: Simeon Tzar (bass)
Slovenian National Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Bogo Leskovich
rec. 1955, Ljubljana
originally issued on LP as Philips ABL3150/51
2010 audio transfer and remastering by Andrew Rose
Reviewed as lossless download
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO051 [2 CDs: 108:41]

Prokofiev composed this fairy-tale farce in 1919 in the aftermath of WWI. It is a great example of a young composer sowing wild oats in musical terms. Brilliant, witty, sardonic, cutting – all are terms which have been used to describe his multi-faceted score. I would compare it to the musical equivalent of a Fabergé Egg. I became acquainted with this opera as a teenager via the old Melodiya/Angel LPs with Delgat conducting the forces of the Moscow Radio. I have ever been fascinated by just how much Prokofiev threw into this little, two-hour opera. There are true flashes of brilliance scattered like jacks all over the place. One of my favorite moments is the brief sardonic march played by the bassoons just after the Prince wakes up to discover the two dead princesses lying near their open oranges. At that moment, a troop of soldiers just happens to wander by and are conveniently available to remove the orange royals for their burials to this witty tune. It is a fleeting passage which can easily zip by unnoticed, like so much of the inspiration the composer poured into this opera.

This release was the first complete recording of the work, made by the Philips Company as part of the cultural rapprochement of the 1950s. They travelled to Ljubljana to make two Russian opera recordings with the Slovenian National Opera Company. Judging by the quality of their work on this set, they were no mere provincial ensemble but a vibrant company of artists performing to the highest standards. It is a pity that more recordings were not made at the time.

A look at the cast here shows no easily-recognizable names, but do not let that deter you from investigating this release, as it is the most consistently strong cast of all of the available commercial recordings. Koroshetz is a King of Clubs who displays a fine, firm bass voice with an attractive, burring halo to his tone.  The Prince is charmingly sung by Lipusek, who possesses a clear, lithe tenor which he uses elegantly. I particularly enjoyed how he managed the famous laughing scene; his laughter sounds entirely spontaneous despite a strict metronomic count in the score. Dolchinar’s Farfarello is sung in a warm-cushioned baritone. Most remarkably, Creonte the cook gets a beautifully bel canto reading from Lupsha.

The female cast-members are equally fine. Fata Morgana can be sung either by a mezzo or a soprano. Guerlovich sounds as if she was on a break from singing Isolde to take on the comic sorceress. Stritar is a rich mezzo who sings Clarisse with more allure than the role normally receives. Princess Ninette is the delicate-toned Kochevar. Her voice is reminiscent of that of Gundula Janowitz but with a higher, lighter sound. She makes Ninette as ethereal as one would expect a Princess in a fairy-tale to be. The sole let-down in this cast is Karlovtaz as Sméraldin, who is hollow toned in comparison to most of her rivals on other sets.

Bogo Leskovich guides the Slovenian forces through the difficult rhythms and shifting moods throughout the opera.  The well-known march swaggers without becoming overwhelming. Occasionally I noted that he takes a more leisurely approach to some passages in comparison to his rivals on other sets but this is not necessarily a failing.

Pristine’s ambient transfer gives the feeling of a decent stereo spread which I noticed especially in the March. The original LPs put the orchestra into a resonant sound field which is nicely augmented by the new transfer. It is likely that most purchasers would prefer to go for a modern stereo recording of which the Nagano CDs on Virgin or the Gergiev version on Philips are both good recommendations. However, this first recording, excellently refurbished by Andrew Rose, remains the gold medalist of them all.

Mike Parr



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