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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Eugene Onegin (1879) [149:14]
Larina - Mira Verčević (mezzo-soprano)
Tatyana - Valerija Heybal (soprano)
Olga - Biserka Cvejić (mezzo-soprano)
Filipyevna - Melanija Bugarinović (contralto)
Eugene Onegin - Dušan Popović (baritone)
Lensky - Drago Starc (tenor)
Gremin - Miroslav Čangalović (bass)
Triquet - Stepan Andrashevich (tenor)
Captain - Aleksandar Veselinović (baritone)
Zaretzky - Ilija Gligoriević (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the National Theatre, Belgrade/Oscar Danon
rec. 5-9 & 11 September 1955, House of Culture, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Synopsis and notes; no libretto. ADD stereo
ELOQUENCE 482 6944 [71:06 + 78:08]

This is another first-time-on-CD release in the series of seven recordings of classic Russian operas made by Decca in Yugoslavia in 1955 (Prince Igor ~ Khovanshchina ~ Boris Godunov) and enjoys both good stereo sound and an excellent ensemble. That gives it a sonic advantage over the mono Bolshoi recording which, even in Pristine’s excellent remastering, isn’t as good as this.

In my previous review of Prince Igor, I referred to Dušan Popović as “a noble, rich-voiced baritone” and in Khovanshchina as “the most attractive singer here”; he takes the eponymous, principal role in this recording and sings first a cool, elegant Onegin then permits an apt note of distraction to creep into voice. Several other singers made estimable contributions to the other recordings and are happily assembled in this recording to very pleasing effect. I found Valeria Heybal to have “a piercing, piping quality” as Yaroslavna in Prince Igor but she is perfect here as Tatyana: febrile and girlishly impulsive in Act 1, and first regal then desperate in Act 3; her quick vibrato and vibrant tone easily suggest the depth of her pain and suffering as she struggles to overcome her feelings for Onegin. Their final duet is very moving. Drago Starc has a light, attractive tenor which convincingly suggests Lensky’s impulsive immaturity; he has some steel in his voice, too, rising passionately to his jealous rupture with, and challenge to, his friend Onegin without necessarily eclipsing more famous exponents of the role. He may be no Wunderlich or Kozlovsky but he sings his big aria beautifully. Monsieur Triquet is nicely sung and characterised by Stepan Andrashevich even if his French is less than authentic. Miroslav Čangalović brings his steady, resonant bass to the role of Prince Gremin and sings feelingly of his love for Tatyana; it is a lovely cameo.

The orchestral playing is not without flaw: there is some poor intonation in the woodwind and flutes before the first duet and some occasional sour tuning in the strings but these recordings were made within a very tight time-frame so the odd blemish is understandable; they are in general very spirited and idiomatic. Danon’s conducting is flexible and sensitive; he paces everything ideally, capturing the tension underlying the provincial jollities in the Larin household and the brilliance of the St Petersburg ball.

Its nearest rival is the 1956 Bolshoi studio recording but there hasn’t been a new studio version since Bychkov in 1990, starring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and not especially well partnered. Probably the most widely known and admired of preceding studio recordings are those by Levine (1989), Ermler (1979) and Solti (1974); this one does not supersede any of those by virtue of any particular quality and there are more glamorous recordings to be had, but as a whole it pleases in every department: singing, playing, conducting and sound. As such, it is entirely recommendable and a wholly satisfying account.

Ralph Moore

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