WORKS: War and Peace
PERFORMER: Ekaterina Morozova, Justin Lavender, Oleg Balashov, Roderick Williams, Pamela Helen Stephen; Russian State Symphonic Capella, Spoleto Festival Orchestra/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9855(4)
‘Ura’, as the Russian soldiers would shout, for Menotti and Hickox at Spoleto, bringing to a small festival an epic of dimensions to suit the grandest opera houses. And every note of it is here – though only a few minutes of patriotic ballast in the last scene are missing from Gergiev’s higher-level achievement (Philips), and Alan Ewing’s bleating Kutuzov makes you wish that the council scene with the Field-Marshal’s mighty aria, the last to be added over the opera’s troubled years of genesis, might for once have been dropped.
Otherwise, a talented cast acquit themselves well, and the live recording serves them better than did Philips in the Kirov. Roderick Williams’s youthful Prince Andrei makes a handsome love match with Ekaterina Morozova’s Natasha, soaring in anguish and excitement if a little dark of tone and never effacing the vividness of Elena Prokina, Gergiev’s Natasha and the lovable muddle-headed girl incarnate. Justin Lavender’s Pierre is ardent but lacks nuance – true of most of the smaller roles (though there are some polished orchestral characterisations from the fine orchestra). The choir is enthusiastic but lacks the open-throated glory of a professional Russian opera chorus – though it enjoys the one real coup of the performance, the tacking-on of the belligerent Epigraph to the last of the ‘peace’ scenes. Hickox does stalwart work without ever matching the focus and depth of the three Russians – Melik-Peshayev in the much-cut 1961 Bolshoi classic, Rostropovich and Gergiev – who have braved this multi-faceted giant on disc. David Nice