Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: EMI Réferences
WORKS: Boris Godunov
PERFORMER: Boris Christoff, Eugenia Zareska, Ludmila Lebedeva, Lydia Romanova, André Bielecki, Kim Borg, Nicolai Gedda, Wassili PasternakChoeurs Russes de Paris, French National RSO/Issay Dobrowen
CATALOGUE NO: CHS 565192 2 ADD mono Reissue
If the recent Abbado recording of Boris was luxurious in its casting, with world-class singers in even the minor roles, then this is the economy version, for the great Boris Christoff sings not only the Tsar but his confessor Pimen and the vagabond Varlaam, and the Polish mezzo Eugenia Zareska plays both Marina and the Tsarevich Fyodor. Inevitably this presents problems: Christoff is undeniably versatile, but the searing scene in Act IV, when Boris, facing death, seeks reassurance from Pimen, has less dramatic credibility than it needs. Christoff varies his tone (his Boris is magnificent, intense, authoritative; his Pimen softer, more controlled), but his glorious voice is too distinctive to make them convincingly distinguishable. His Varlaam, by further contrast, provides an opportunity for an exhilarating display of rumbustious singing.

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Of the rest of the generally excellent cast, the young Nicolai Gedda stands out as a fresh-voiced Grigory, as does Kim Borg, a fine Rangoni and Shchelkalov. Issay Dobrowen extracts a vivid performance from the orchestra, producing a sound that is true to the rawness of Mussorgsky’s original score despite using Rimsky-Korsakov’s refined orchestration. Only the Choeurs Russes de Paris let things down badly.

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Given that this mono recording was made in 1952, the sound quality is bright and clear. Claire Wrathall