Rachmaninov: The Miserly Knight

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov – The Miserly Knight
WORKS: The Miserly Knight
PERFORMER: Mikhail Guzhov, Vsevolod Grinov, Andrei Baturkin, Borislav Molchanov, Vitaly EfanoRussian State SO/Valery Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10264
Of all the one-act operas spun from

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the ‘little tragedies’ of the great

Russian poet Alexander Pushkin,

Rachmaninov’s Miserly Knight

has been most successful recently

in showing his treasures to the

world, with several recordings over

the past few years and receiving a

Glyndebourne production

last summer. The centrepiece is

certainly prodigious: a 118-line

soliloquy exposing the protagonist’s

psychology of hoarded wealth and

power, set against a serpentine and

brooding orchestral tapestry. You

could blame Pushkin’s dramaturgy

rather than Rachmaninov’s

theatrical instinct for what flanks

the monologue – a lengthy

preamble setting up the Baron’s

miserliness through the narrative

of his desperate, impetuous son,

and a deliberately anti-climactic

scene in which the father dwindles

from demonic grandee to pathetic

old man as he collapses and dies

before the arbiter of justice.

Valery Polyansky, his orchestra and

singers are at their best – surviving

the recorded spotlight – in these

more matter-of-fact stretches of the

score. The impetus of young gallant

Albert is cleanly delineated by tenor

Vsevolod Grivnov and the orchestral

parrying of his sprightly leitmotif;

and Andrei Baturkhin makes a

handsome if all too brief impact as

the lawgiving Duke in Scene 3.

It’s good to hear a true Russian

bass, Mikhail Guzhov, as the Baron,

but his stalwart monochrome is no

match for the charisma and nuancing

of Sergey Alexashkin, protagonist in

the luxuriously cast DG recording

(how one would love to have heard

Chaliapin in this tailor-made role).

And for all the clean-cut storytelling

of Polyansky’s players, only

the superbly vocalised weeping

and wailing of Neeme Järvi’s

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

in the Prelude and the cellar scene

(reviewed May 1998) brings out

the true tragic grandeur of this

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lugubrious score. David Nice