Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: The Queen of Spades
PERFORMER: Gegam Grigorian, Nikolai Putilin, Vladimir Chernov, Irina Arkhipova, Maria Gulegina; Kirov Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 438 141-2 DDD
The quest of Hermann, Pushkin’s obsessive outsider-hero, for the secret of three cards suffers a few diversions in Tchaikovsky’s operatic setting. Valery Gergiev and his young, vital star-tenor at the Maryinsky (formerly Kirov), Gegam Grigorian, hold the thread through to a tension-laden denouement. The scene where Hermann visits the Countess in her bedchamber to learn her recipe for gambling success and frightens the speechless old woman to death is Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece of horror. It has never been more daringly drawn out to make the flesh creep. Here, you’ll find some of the most intense pianissimos ever recorded, and the Philips engineers have learned how to bring out presence and colours in the bizarre woodwind writing – the composer’s most significant contribution to the forward march of orchestration.

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Elsewhere, Gergiev keeps the action on the move. Even the prolix ball scene, where Tchaikovsky takes a diversion to pay tribute to idols Catherine the Great and Mozart, blazes grandly, capped by a predictably heart-on-sleeve Kirov chorus. Soloists are indulged in their tendency to hang on to high notes – Grigorian deservedly, since he always remains in character; Maria Gulegina, the dark-hued but powerful Lisa, less so. The mysterious Countess is sung by the revered ex-Bolshoi contralto Irina Arkhipova, still crucially vivid in tone and diction. Vladimir Chernov, phrasing smoothly in Yeletsky’s aria, makes up for the disappointingly under-focused Tomsky of Nikolai Putilin (what happened to Leiferkus, who appeared in the Kirov production?). Otherwise, as usual with this company, there are no weak linksin the smaller roles and a true ensemble spirit. David Nice