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Power Players: Russian Arias for Bass
Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Kaunas State Choir, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. 9-13 May 2013, Kaunas Philharmonic, Kaunas, Lithuania
Details of arias at end of review
DELOS DE3456 [66.49]

Slavic basses are firmly established at the vanguard of the world stage, most notably Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938). Chaliapin was the first Russian singer to establish a distinguished international career and with a number of vintage recordings available it is easy to hear why. The booklet notes refer to the elevated quality of Russian basses Mark Reizen, Alexander Pirogov, Boris Gmyrya and Maxim Mikhailov whose work I don’t know. I have however been able to hear recordings of the distinguished Bulgarian basses Boris Christoff (1914-1993) and Nicolai Ghiaurov (1929-2004) both quite marvellous singers. Any new Slavic bass on the scene has massive boots to fill.

Now on the Delos label comes 'Power Players' — the first full solo aria release from Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov who has established himself on the world stage. Born in 1976 at Ufa in the Russian federal republic of Bashkortostan, Abdrazakov has won a number of prestigious competitions including, in 2000, the Maria Callas International Television Competition in Parma. This propelled him into the limelight and led to his recital debut at La Scala the next year. In 2004 Abdrazakov made his Metropolitan debut and soon established himself as a pillar of the world’s leading houses including the Met, Bavarian State Opera, Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera. He won a double Grammy in 2011 for the live recording of the Verdi Requiem with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Riccardo Muti on CSO Resound. I can also recall Abdrazakov as the excellent featured soloist in the 2006 Chandos release Shostakovich: 'Words of Michelangelo' with the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. A true highlight of my concert-going career involved reporting on a memorable performance in 2013 of the Verdi Requiem with soloist Abdrazakov in superb voice. His collaborators on that occasion at the Kreuzkirche as part of the Dresden Music Festival included the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino under Noseda. Recently Abdrazakov has made headlines appearing at the gala opening of the Metropolitan 2014/15 season in the title role of Sir Richard Eyre’s new production of Le nozze di Figaro conducted by James Levine.

Bass singers have been destined by the vast majority of opera composers to be cast as cantankerous old men, devious clerics, evil scoundrels and the like. It’s the heroic tenors that receive the lion’s share of available honour and romantic interest. Notwithstanding, bass roles include some interesting roles as demonstrated here and reflecting many of the greatest achievements in the Russian bass voice repertoire.

In my report of Abdrazakov’s 2013 performance of the Verdi Requiem at the Kreuzkirche, Dresden I wrote of his “innate sense of authority ... deep resonant tones ... rich, dark character and projected powerfully and vividly ....” I wouldn’t change a word except to say that on the evidence of this release Abdrazakov seems to have developed even greater vocal control. Ruslan’s aria and cabaletta O pole, pole from Ginka’s Ruslan and Ludmila is a splendid example of Abdrazakov’s exceptional ability to move fluidly and with absolute ease through his range. He makes it easy to picture the knight Ruslan gazing over the battlefield carnage and musing on the future. My particular highlight is the Demon’s aria Na Vozdushnom Okeane from Anton Rubinstein’s underrated The Demon. As the forlorn and mysterious Demon wandering the heavens searching for the warmth of human love Abdrazakov’s aptitude for characterisation is fiercely evident. Worthy of esteem is his exquisite legato and capacity for vocal colouring. From Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta the aria Gospod' moi, esli greshen ya. King René’s plea to God for his blind daughter to see again is given a heart-wrenching delivery. From Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, aria Kak vo gorode bylo vo Kazani is vividly put across in the singer's dramatic portrayal of the vagabond Varlaam. Somewhat worse for wear Varlaam relates the victory of Ivan the Terrible over the Tartars. Here the bass delivers plenty of energetic thrust without exhibiting a hint of strain. An experienced opera conductor, Constantine Orbelian ensures tautly controlled and well paced tempi from the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra capably supported by the splendid Kaunas State Choir.

As is the custom with Delos the booklet notes are first class. Crucially they contain the Russian text and English translations. There is also a most helpful explanation of each aria within its operatic context. The sound is clear and well balanced.

This collection is something special. It has hardly left my CD player.
Michael Cookson

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
1. “Ves tabor spit” from Aleko
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
2. “Farlaf ’s Rondo” from Ruslan and Ludmila
3. “O pole, pole” from Ruslan and Ludmila
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
4. “Ne sna ne otdykha” from Prince Igor
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
5. “Kak vo gorode bylo vo Kazani” from Boris Godunov
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
6. “Na Vozdushnom Okeane” from The Demon
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
7. “Liubvi vsem vozrasty pokorny” from Eugene Onegin
8. “Gospod moi, yesli greshin ya” from Iolanthe
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
9. “Chuyut pravdu” from A Life for the Tsar
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
10. “Velichavaya v solnechnykh luchakh” from War and Peace
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
11. “Viking Song” from Sadko
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
12. “Coronation Scene” from Boris Godunov

Previous review: Robert J Farr