STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20. Till Eulenspiegel's
Merry Pranks, Op. 28.
Death and Transfiguraion, Op. 24. Four Last Songs
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Le Coq d'Or
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Oprichnik
Here we have three major issues from Pristine Audio. Furtwänger's Vienna recordings of the three major symphonic poems were made in Vienna's Musikverein Jan. 21, 23 and 24, 1950 (Tod und Verklärung), March 2, 1954 (Don Juan), March 3, 1954 (Till Eulenspiegel) and the Four Last Songs were recorded live in Royal Albert Hall May 22, 1950. It is difficult to understand the provence of the latter. Supposedly it is a live recording but even at that time BBC engineers were producing audio far superior to what is heard here. Whatever the circumstances, Andrew Rose's XR remastering has worked wonders compared with previous releases of this major performance—the world premiere of a Strauss masterpiece presented on the 150th anniversary of his birth. Flagstad was in top form although there is no explanation why she lowered a single note in the opening song. Keep in mind that two years later Flagstad and Furtwängler would make their definitive recording of Tristan and Isolde, a gem of Pristine's catalog as remastered. The three symphonic poems are given magnificent performances; you will not hear a Tod und Verklärung with a more glorious climax (except possibly the Willem Mengelberg 1942 Concertgebouw recording). This and the two other symphonic poems are majestic, with the VPO in virtuoso form. This disk is essential for Strauss lovers.
The Rimsk-Korakov and Tchaikovsky operas are a part of Pristine's admirable series of Melodia recordings, This site mentioned the Bolshoi Opera 1955 recording of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (REVIEW). Tchaikovsky composed 11 operas, some incomplete; Onegin, composed 1877-1878, was his fifth. The Oprichnik, dating from 1870-1892, was his third. He wrote the libretto based on the tragedy of the same name by Ivan Lazjechnikov set in Ivan the Terrible's court. The opritchniks consisted of people devoted to to govern the group of Russians sworn to protect the region known as Oprichnina; they are considered to be the equivalent of Russian secret police. Political intrigue prevails, with rivals struggling for the love of the beautiful Natalia, stirring patriotic choruses and a final execution scene in which Andrey is executed as his mother watches. Should this early opera of Tchaikovsky interest you, it can be experienced in this authoritative performance recorded by Melodiya in 1946 with leading singers of the time. Pristine's remastering offers a vivid sonic recreation; one would never suspect that this was recorded more than six decades ago. . There is a synopsis of the convoluted plot, but no libretto.
Le Coq d'Or is a milestone in Russian opera. Written in 1906-7, it was the last of Rimsky-Korsakov's many operas. There are three acts with a brief prologue and even shorter epilogue, in which the Astrologer advises that the story never happened. This is, a fantastic fairy tale that takes place near Shemanka, which is ruled by the domineering Queen. The dottering King Dodon, who has two equally stupid sons, is advised by the Astrologer via a magic golden cockerel that the Queen intends to take his land, so he attacks first. But he and his forces are so inept they fail, but when the King sees the beatiful Queen he falls in love with her and she realizes she doesn't have to battle him to conquer him. The final act is filled with action. There is a wedding procession, the Astrologer demands the King give him the Queen, the King kills the Astrologer, and the golden cockerel kills the King. Two DVD videos have been mentioned on this site, one conducted by Aram Latanian (REVIEW), the other a Liceu production conducted by Kent Nagano (REVIEW).Both are superb, and visually there is much to enjoy. However, this 1961-1962 Melodia performance is magnificent, particularly Klara Kadinskaya's spectacular singing as (Shemakhan Tsaritsa).Excellent stereo sound is another plus. Don't miss it!
R.E..B. (May 2014)