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COMPOSERS: Verstovsky
LABELS: Consonance
WORKS: Askold’s Grave
PERFORMER: Vladislav Verestnikov, Lev Kuznetsov, Igor Miroshnichenko; Academic Large Choir, Moscow RSO/Yuri Nikonenko
It was Glinka who made Russian opera a force to be reckoned with, but Verstovsky’s Askold’s Grave (1835) was perhaps the most significant work immediately prior to that. A love story set in 12th-century Kiev (as Christianity supplants paganism), the opera anticipates the great themes of later works, especially in its historical nationalism, reflected in the extensive use of the chorus and the self-conscious Russian musical references – there’s a gorgeous Slavic dance in Act III. Despite the heavy-handed orchestration, the opera is melodically inventive, and the characters often finely drawn. Yuri Nikonenko directs the large forces in an engaging performance, and Lev Kuznetsov is particularly characterful as the servant, Torop, but the sound is rather distant and echoey. William Humphreys-Jones