Rachmaninov: Aleko

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Aleko
PERFORMER: Nicola Ghiuselev, Dimiter Petkov, Tony Chirstova Choir Ensemble for Songs, Plovdiv PO/ Rouslan Raychev
CATALOGUE NO: 10 782
Aleko was the first of Rachmaninov’s four operas, written as a graduation piece for the Moscow Conservatoire when he was 19. The short libretto – which was chosen by the examiners – is based on a Pushkin poem about gypsies; rather like Carmen, it deals with the conflicting attitudes of the settled, bourgeois world and gypsy life (needless to say, the latter is somewhat sentimentalised). It provided suitable opportunities for the students to go through their paces, with several set pieces for soloists and chorus and, in the gypsy dances, for orchestral interludes.

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Although the work does not rank among his greatest achievements, the young Rachmaninov acquitted himself with some panache. It owes much to Tchaikovsky, especially in its sometimes fretful lyricism, and something to the nationalists in the knowing orientalisms of the gypsy dances. The most striking music comes in Aleko’s cavatina, which, in this welcome and enjoyable recording from Bulgaria, is movingly sung by Nicola Ghiuselev. Other highlights include Dimiter Petkov’s performance as the old gypsy and the spacious and evocative playing of the Plovdiv Philharmonic under Rouslan Raychev. William Humphreys-Jones