Rimsky-Korsakov: Kashchey the Immortal

COMPOSERS: Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Kashchey the Immortal
PERFORMER: Konstantin Pluzhnikov, Marina Shaguch, Larissa Diadkova, Alexander Morozov; Kirov Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 446 704-2
Following on from the Philips recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko (442 138-2) and The Maid of Pskov (446 678-2), the Kirov Opera under Valery Gergiev here presents three Rimsky operas which are patently written by the same pen but which, in character, are intriguingly different. In terms of performance, record-buyers need look no further: this music is in the Kirov’s blood; the singers are hand-picked from among the Kirov’s rich vocal talents; Gergiev himself wields dramatic power and – an essential requirement in any Rimsky work – reproduces the orchestral colouring with a vivid realisation of its role in establishing and enhancing atmosphere.

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The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, Rimsky’s penultimate opera, has an orchestral perspective of extraordinary fertility, and, in its synthesis of spirituality, human emotion and the other-worldliness, occupies the peak of his operatic output. Rimsky rightly considered Kitezh to be a fitting summation of his theatrical ideals. His final opera, the perky, satirical Golden Cockerel, does not counteract his or history’s opinion, and in this performance of Kitezh – with Galina Gorchakova maintaining passion and inner vision in poignant balance as the maiden Fevroniya – Gergiev draws together the opera’s components of folk tradition, nature and lyricism into a compelling artistic entity. The orchestral playing has both grit and sensitivity; the pacing is finely judged so that individual scenes, while sharply characterised, contribute to the seamless flow of the opera’s three-hour span. Recorded live at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1994, this Kitezh is, even on disc, a real theatrical experience.

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The Tsar’s Bride and Kashchey the Immortal, if not in the same league as Kitezh, are performed with a fundamental, ear-opening belief in their musical and dramatic strengths. Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s imposing Gryaznoy monologue at the start of The Tsar’s Bride sets the tone for a historical opera of virile force. The one-act Kashchey, drawn from the same folk sources that inspired Stravinsky’s The Firebird, finds Rimsky boldly experimental in chromatic harmony and pungent orchestration, acute in his pitting of supernatural with mortal forces, and Konstantin Pluzhnikov revelling in the evil of his sorcery.