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Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Boris Godunov – Musical Drama in four parts with prologue and epilogue after Pushkin's drama (revised version, 1872) Boris - Martti Talvela
Grigory (False Dmitry) - Nicolai Gedda
Marina - Bozena Kinasz
Pimen - Leonard Mróz
Varlaam - Aage Haugland
Shuisky - Bogdan Paprocki
Missail - Kazimierz Pustelak
Rangoni - Andrzej Hiolski
Fyodor - Vera Baniewicz
Xenia - Halina Lukomska
Hostess - Stefania Toczyska
Simpleton - Paulos Raptis
Polish Radio Chorus Cracow and Cracow Philharmonic Boys' Chorus & Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra/Jerzy Semkow rec. 9–21 July 1976, Katowice, Poland. ADD. stereo
EMI CLASSICS 7397042 [3 CDs: 71:38 + 73:38 + 75:58]

This was a brave recording of the original, non-Rimsky-fied version of Boris when listeners were still not acclimatised to the starker orchestration and more adventurous harmonies that Mussorgsky intended. It has many virtues, not least the great Talvela in a role tailor-made for his massive bass. He gives us a deeply felt Boris without resorting to the admittedly effective but increasingly unfashionable histrionics typical of his predecessors; his Tsar is more akin to the characterisation we hear from such as Nestorenko. There are other lesser-known but equally commanding singers in the cast, especially the immensely dignified and moving Pimen of Leonard Mroz and the splendidly subtle double act by Andrzej Hiolski as both Shchelkalov and Rangoni;his slightly husky baritone is a delight, oddly reminiscent of Italian baritone Mario Sereni, elegant and expressive. The Marina, too, is wonderfully vibrant and passionate, although I admit to never having heard of Bozena Kinasz. The Polish supporting cast, chorus and orchestra are fine, the latter making an especially warm sound in the strings in particular.
 
I admit to being less enthusiastic than previous reviewers about Gedda's Dmitri or Semkow's conducting. Gedda is elegant but always a bit throaty and constricted, especially in comparison with his Marina's huge, released sound; Gedda comes close to yelling in their big duet, just, I suspect, to keep up with her. Semkow is subtle but I find that he generates little excitement at key points; everything is very restrained and well-mannered but I need more raw Russian attack. For instance, his pulse verges on the slack in the great Slava chorus concluding the Prologue and during Boris's death. Nor am I ever much of a fan of Aage Haugland's clumsy, unsteady bass, although he is amusing when whooping it up as the drunk monk Varlaam.
 
In short, this is a fine Boris but not necessarily preferable to recordings of the original version such as that by Gergiev with the Kirov. It is cheap but comes without a libretto, which is essential to Western listeners.

Ralph Moore
 


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