Tchaikovsky: Mazeppa

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Mazeppa
PERFORMER: Sergei Leiferkus, Anatoly Kotcherga, Larissa Dyadkova, Galina Gorchakova, Sergei Larin; Chorus of the Royal Opera, Stockholm, Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
Inevitably this new Mazeppa – the first recording of Tchaikovsky’s seventh opera to be made in the west – will be compared with the Sony Boris Godunov, issued earlier this year. Both are epic, historical operas based, like Onegin, on Pushkin, and the recordings share several principals; the excellent baritone Sergei Leiferkus, the robust bass Anatoly Kotcherga and the fine young tenor Sergei Larin. Inevitably, too, Mazeppa will emerge less favourably. This is partly because it is a weaker work than Mussorgsky’s masterpiece (which preceded it by more than a decade); but mostly because of Neeme Järvi’s muted interpretation, which does little to project the score’s innate romanticism and melodrama. Given that this is a tale of torture, execution, war, murder and madness, it sounds disconcertingly tame, a shortcoming not improved by the distant and constrained acoustic. Though the performance is superbly sung – Leiferkus is brilliantly charismatic in the title role, and Galina Gorchakova is sublime as his lover, Marya, exuding charm, ardour and, in her final mad scene, exquisite pathos – the orchestra is never allowed fully to exploit the opera’s gloriously rhapsodic music. Nor is there sufficient contrast between the menacingly dark writing of the dungeon scene, the tender love duets and the rousing symphonic tableau (shades of 1812) used to depict the Russian victory at Poltava. Claire Wrathall