MUSSORGSKY:  Boris Godounov (excerpts)
Feodor Chaliapin (Boris); Angelo Bada (Shiusky); Dino Borgioli (Dimitri); Astride Barrachi (Tchalkalov); Salvatorr Baccaloni (Varlaam); Luigi Manfrini (Pimen); Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra/Vincenzo Bellezza, cond. (rec. July 4, 1928)
GUILD MUSIC GHCD 2206 (M) (ADD) TT:  72:14

MUSSORGSKY:  Boris Godunov (complete)
Alexander Pirogov (Boris); Bronislava Zlatogorova (Feodor); Elena Kruglikova (Xenia); Nikandr Khanayev (Prince Shuiski); Maxim Mikhailov (Pimen); Georgi Nelepp (Grigori); Maria Maksakova (Marina); V. Lubentsov (Varlaam); Ivan Kozlovsky (The Fool); Bolshoi Theater Chorus & Orchestra/Nicolai Golovanov, cond. (rec. 1949)

PREISER 90483 (3 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT: 77:08 / 68:27 / 73:59

MUSSORGSKY:  Boris Godunov (complete)
Boris Christoff (Boris); Ana Alexieva (Fyodor); Ekaterina Gueorguieva (Xenia); John Lanigan (Shuisky); Dimitr Ouzounov (Grigory); Evelyn Lear (Marina); Anton Diakov (Rangoni); Mira Kalin (Hostess); Kiril Dulguerov (The Fool); Sofia National Opera Chorus; Paris Conservatory Orch/André Cluytens, cond.
EMI 67881 (3 CDs) (M) TT:  69:56 / 56:13 / 77:11

For lovers of Mussorgsky's masterpiece all three of these releases are essential - should you not already have them in previous issues.  All utilize Rimsky-Korsakov's version of Boris Godunov, which is more richly orchestrated than the rather sparse but powerful original.  I prefer the Korsakov version for its sumptuous orchestration - one of my most memorable evenings in the opera house was hearing the Bolshoi Opera perform Boris (with Ivan Petrov - one of them; I understand there are at least two basses with this name who often sang the title role) at Expo '67.  The performance on Preiser's set is considered by many to be the definitive recording, originally occupying 22 78 rpm disks. This transfer of a typically Russian-sounding performance is excellent in every way.  The rather primitive mono sound emphasizes brass which adds to the impact of this performance; the chorus, as one would expect, is superb. Golovanov is a superb conductor for this music, avoiding interpretive excesses usual with symphonic music.  Pirogov had already made a film of Boris prior to this 1949 recording; his performance is rather straight-forward, powerful in its own way, without the histrionics of Chaliapin or Christoff.  The remainder of the cast is uniformly fine except for the squally Marina of  Maria Maksakova.  As this performance doesn't fit not fit onto two CDs, the third is generously filled out with excerpts from Boris sung by Mark Reizen - otherwise the cast is the same.  Presumably this is from the same performance heard in its entirety on Arkadia (REVIEW).  Preiser's CD notes are limited to but seven pages, four of which are photos.  An important recording such as this deserves more documentation.  There are only 19 tracks for the entire opera.

Boris Christoff first sang Boris in 1949 after which he was recognized internationally as the leading exponent of the role for more than two decades.  His 1952 recording (with a cast including Nicolai Gedda as the finest Grigory on records ) conducted by Issay Dobrowen always was a favorite of mine, in well-balanced mono sound - with a Coronation Scene that, with its massive plethora of bells and gongs, was a knock-out.  For some years this was available on EMI Classics (65192), long out of print.  Christoff made his second recording in 1962 in Paris with a fine cast including Evelyn Lear as a voluptuous Marina, with André Cluytens conducting. The Sofia National Opera Chorus does full justice to the choral interludes, the Paris Conservatory Orchestra has a French/Russian timbre highly appropriate.  Importantly, the recording is in broad stereo which is highly effective.  Christoff was rightfully criticized for his assumption of the roles of Pimen and Varlaam, in addition to the title role - particularly awkward in the brief exchange between Boris and Varlaam in the final scene.  Christoff's voice is so distinctive there is no question who is singing both parts.  This performance was issued on CD before at full price.  Now we have it in this handsome 3-CD mid-price set in a splendid remastering sounding better than ever.  A fascinating essay by Richard Osbourne gives circumstances of the recording (including the fact that Kyril Kondrashin was to have conducted but Russian authorities wouldn't permit him to do so), and there is a track by track (there are 51 of them!) synopsis of the plot plus the complete libretto in German, Russian, English and French. This is a class presentation of a recording that truly deserves to be called a "Great Recording of the Century."

Chaliapin was considered to be the finest Boris for three decades.  Although he didn't sing at the premiere of the Korsakov version in 1896 at St. Petersburg, he did sing first performances in Moscow, Paris, Milan and London. We are fortunate it was decided to record the July 4, 1928 Covent Garden performance which presents a rather strange situation - Boris was sung in Italian, but Chaliapin sang in Russian. Technical problems made a number of the 78 rpm sides unusable, but what was usable has been issued many times on various labels.

Richard Caniell, obviously a great fan of Chaliapin, produced the Guild CD which contains all of the previously issued excerpts from the live Covent Garden performance. In an attempt to include more of that performance, Canelli has "cut and pasted" from the live performance - including several restored damaged sections - and Chaliapin commercial recordings.  He also has interpolated two excerpts from a performance by another fine Boris, Nicola Moscona, to provide continuity.  A 20-page booklet focuses on Chaliapin and details of performance restoration.  At mid-price, this is a valuable CD.

I'm still waiting for a complete recording of the brilliant Shostakovich orchestration of Boris.  Gergiev and his Bolshoi forces gave us a tantalizing excerpt (the Coronation Scene) on their Russian collection CD (Philips 442 775).  Now, how about the entire opera?

R.E.B. (October 2002)