Glinka: Ruslan and Ludmila

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Ruslan and Ludmila
PERFORMER: Taras Shtonda, Ekaterina Morozova, Vadim Lynkovsky, Alexandra Durseneva; Moscow Bolshoi Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Alexander Vedernikov
For an opera that still counts as a rarity, Ruslan and Ludmila (1842) has done well on disc. But then it occupies a special place in the history of Russian opera as being the first of countless works to have been drawn from Pushkin. Glinka and Pushkin, the father of Russian music and father of Russia’s national literature respectively, have much in common: a talent for the same lightness and precision, naturalness and expressiveness. Both their outputs share the ability to assimilate Western influences into an instinctive Russian style. It’s precisely the blend of Russian ruggedness and Italianate virtuosity which seems to elude the conductor Alexander Vedernikov here, in a recording taken from live performances at the Bolshoi Theatre last year. This is a perfectly decent account, though sometimes too earthbound for a fairytale, and certainly no match for the élan that Valery Gergiev shows on his recording from the Kirov nearly a decade ago. The cast is, again, one you’d be happy to encounter in the theatre, but not necessarily one worth preserving on disc. Taras Shtonda is a slightly monochromatic Ruslan, and Ekaterina Morozova tends towards squalliness as Ludmila – by contrast with Gergiev’s shining Anna Netrebko. Valery Gilmanov is underwhelming in the Chaliapin role of Farlaf, making Maria Gavrilova’s alluring sorceress, Gorislava, the best of the rest. Stage noise is kept to a minimum, but the sound is not nearly as vibrant as on the Philips version or even on the exciting old Bolshoi set under Simonov (BMG/ Melodiya, 1979), made when the Moscow theatre was a prouder institution than it is today. John Allison