MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov
This superb Arkadia set makes available one of the finest recordings ever of Mussorgsky's masterpiece with one of the great Boris interpreters of all time -- Mark Reizen. There are no notes with this set, just a listing of tracks; it is unfortunate there isn't some information about the sterling cast. Reizen was born in Russia June 21, 1895; beginning in 1930 he appeared with the Bolshoi Theatre where he sang for more than three decades. When this recording was made, he was in his absolute prime. Reizen, also appeared as a guest in Paris, Berlin, Dresden and Budapest as well as giving many concert tours in Russia and western Europe.
The Arkadia reissue was recorded in Moscow 1948 and previously was issued on poor-sounding LPs on small labels. The new restoration is miraculous - surface noise is virtually eliminated - some resonance has been added, and while this obviously is not a new recording, it is totally satisfactory in every way, superbly conveying the strong performance. Reizen rarely resorts to the crooning and over-interpretation of many famous interpreters of the role including Feodor Chaliapin and Boris Christoff. This is not to denegrate either of these; Reizen has a powerful validity that is his own. This is an interpretation that should be in every Boris collection, particularly as the supporting cast is uniformly strong. Nikolay Golovanov catches all of the power of the score; it seems that finally this remarkable conductor's work is getting recognition it deserves (his Scriabin is near-definitive). Boris is here presented in the Rimsky-Korsakov version but the first scene of Act IV is presented after Boris's death so the opera ends with the Simpleton scene.
Up until the end of the ő60s Boris Godunov was usually heard in Rimsky-Korsakov‚s version which is more richly orchestrated than the original . Then there was a return to Mussorgsky's original version as well as scattered performances of Dimitri Shostakovich‚s colorful orchestration. Valery Gergiev's Philips recording of the Coronation Scene from the Shostakovich version with his Kirov Opera forces (442 775) is a tantalizing glimpse of what we could expect, but it is unlikely he will record it in its entirety as he has recently recorded the Mussorgsky original.
Some of the finest -- and most famous -- recordings of Boris Godunov are not listed in the current Schwann/Opus, particularly the two with Boris Christoff in the title role (in both he also sings Pimen and Varlaam), the first recorded in 1952 with the Russian Chorus of Paris and French National Radio Orchestra conducted by Issay Dobrowen. The strong cast included Eugenia Zareska as both Marina and Feodor, Andrť Bielecki as Shuisky , Kim Borg as Rangoni and Nicolai Gedda as Grigory/Dimitri. This superb performance was once available on EMI Classics (65192) boasting fine, well-balanced monophonic sound with a particularly impressive Coronation Scene that seems to have an endless supply of massive bells. Christoff‚s second recording, in resplendent stereo, was made in 1962 with another stellar supporting cast including Evelyn Lear as Marina, John Lanigan as Shuisky, Anton Diakov as Rangoni and Dimitri Ouzounov as Grigory/Dimitri, with the Sofia National Opera Orchestra and Paris Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Andre Cluytens (EMI 47993). Both of these recordings use the familiar Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration and end with the death scene.
Those with an interest in Mussorgsky's masterpiece in the adaptation/reconstruction of Rimsky-Korsakov surely will wish to investigate this magnificent performance recorded more than a half-century ago.
R.E.B. (Aug. 2001)