Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: DG The Originals
WORKS: The Queen of Spades
PERFORMER: Peter Gougaloff, Dan Iordachescu, Bernd Weikl, Regina Resnik, Galina Vishnevskaya; Tchaikovsky Choir, French National Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 463 679-2 ADD Reissue (1977)
This is a tale of two performances. Half of what is represented on this landmark 1977 recording – the second operatic project Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya undertook in the studio after leaving Russia – comes close to being a definitive account of Tchaikovsky’s penultimate opera. But the other half, sometimes just disappointing and sometimes maddeningly poor, takes the shine off what remains nevertheless an important issue.

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On the credit side, there is Rostropovich’s conducting, which maintains a good balance between the work’s outward grandeur and inward turmoil, its darksome drama and sparkling brilliance. Conjuring up Tchaikovsky’s St Petersburg and the emotional world of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the works which frame this operatic masterpiece, Rostropovich also stamps his own personality all over this performance. Sometimes he pulls the music around to exaggerated effect, but purely orchestrally this is the most compelling performance available. Some of his singers are outstanding, especially Bernd Weikl, who brings magnificent authority to Yeletsky. Lucia Popp is luxury casting as Prilepa (in the Intermezzo), and there is the great Regina Resnik as a compelling Countess, ghostly without a hint of caricature.

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The debit column is headed, alas, by Vishnevskaya herself: she still has the interpretative insights of a great Bolshoi prima donna, but the voice was captured too late and a hard vibrato intrudes. Peter Gougaloff’s Herman sounds frayed around the edges, and Dan Iordachescu is a dull and unfocused Tomsky. Gergiev’s recording of a decade ago may not match this in every department, but it is a far more even affair and goes to the heart of the matter. John Allison