Rachmaninov: The Miserly Knight

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Le Chant du Monde
WORKS: The Miserly Knight
PERFORMER: Mikhail Krutikov, Vladimir Kudriashov, Alexander Arkhipov, Vladislav Verestnikov, Piotr GlubokyOrchestra/Andrey Chistiakov
CATALOGUE NO: LDC 288 080 DDD
Collectors of Russian opera in the Seventies relished Rozhdestvensky’s conducting of this work on the EMI/Melodiya label under the more correctly translated title of The Covetous Knight. In this almost word-for-word setting of a one-act play by Pushkin, the young Rachmaninov achieved a decisively better opera than the earlier Aleko, in spite of the unpromising restriction of an all-male cast. In the surprising absence of a CD transfer of that single LP, the new issue merits a warmer welcome than I was able to give in March to Aleko, from the same Moscow-based enterprise. The sound-recording is still raw, with the voices over-prominent, but the whole piece flows and coheres.

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The young knight Albert, deep in debt, longs for the death of his father the Baron, whose days are spent in gloating over his hoarded gold. The other principal part is the ‘Jew’, a nasty racial stereotype softened in the Rozhdestvensky version to a ‘moneylender’.

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Hoping that Chaliapin would take the Baron’s role, Rachmaninov wrote a powerful, 20-minute soliloquy of possession. In fact he never sang the part, though he did perform the soliloquy in concert. It is well projected here by Krutikov’s bass, but the tenor Kudriashov as Albert is given to shouting, and the conductor Chistiakov often ignores the instructions of piano. But under Rachmaninov’s genius the psychological drama pushes itself into the listener’s mental space. Arthur Jacobs