Rachmaninov: Aleko

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Aleko
PERFORMER: Sergey Murzaev, Evgeny Akimov, Gennady Bezzubenkov, Svetla Vassileva, Nadezhda Vasilieva; Teatro Regio di Torino Chorus; BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10583

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 For a graduation exercise, Sergei Rachmaninov’s first opera (1893) has done very well in the recording catalogue. Along with the composer’s other two equally compact works for the lyric theatre, it sometimes seems to fit better on disc than on stage, and this new release completes Chandos’s trilogy from Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic.

Based on Pushkin’s poem The Gypsies, the opera tells of how the jealous Aleko, who has renounced society and taken up with the free-spirited Zemfira, is betrayed by her in favour of the Young Gypsy. A double murder ensues, and Aleko is cast out of the gypsy encampment. The echoes of Carmen would not have been lost on Tchaikovsky, who saw and admired his younger colleague’s work shortly before his own death.

But at this – indeed any – stage, Rachmaninov lacked Bizet’s theatrical instincts: Aleko is structured in 13 short, separate numbers which Noseda sweeps into shape in a keenly paced performance. His cast is more mixed and, in the title role, baritone Sergey Murzaev sounds inflexible and dry of voice (especially when compared with Sergey Leiferkus on Neeme Järvi’s recording for DG).

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As Zemfira, the soprano Svetla Vassileva may have some advantages over Järvi’s Maria Guleghina; she is spirited and defiant, but falls down in the dark-toned department. Gennady Bezzubenkov declaims powerfully as the Old Gypsy, and Evgeny Akimov is elegant in his short cavatina. The chorus, from Turin’s Teatro Regio, supplies suitably languid tone. John Allison