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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama/Pique Dame) (1890) [168:50]
rec. 3-9 & 11 September 1955, House of Culture, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Notes, track-list and synopsis provided in the booklet
ADD stereo
ELOQUENCE 4826903 [3 CDs: 168:50]

This is the penultimate recording in the series of seven Russian operas released for the first time on CD by Decca Eloquence. Virtually every one has merit but has probably been surpassed by subsequent versions, not so much for reason of the sound, which is early stereo bar the first one, but more because of cuts or relative deficiencies in the casting, which is uniformly good but not necessarily all of “star quality”. There are, for example, several other recordings of The Queen of Spades which might be thought preferable, including the recent one by Jansons (BR Klassik), those by Gergiev (Philips), Khaikin (Melodiya), Ozawa (Sony), and even the earlier, vintage recording conducted by Melik-Pashayev. Nonetheless, some of the singers here were internationally successful and admired, they were part of a homogeneous ensemble used to working together quickly efficiently and these recordings are now available reasonably priced, so their appearance is decidedly of interest to the devotee of Russian opera.

The listener will immediately be struck by how good this sounds for such an old recording; the stereo separation and depth of aural field are impressive with virtually no hiss and my admiration for its clarity is increased when I stop and think that this was recorded in the year of my birth. There are a few intonation issues in the orchestral playing but it is generally secure, the conducting is alert and well sprung and the choral singing spirited. An array of fine voices is needed for the large cast of this opera and none disappoints; the lead tenor has a rather hard, nasal tone but his voice is powerful and penetrating and authentically Russian sounding. I especially like the neat, flexible baritone of the Tomsky, Jovan Gligorjiević, who sings his narrative of the Countess’ younger days as a beauty in France very engagingly – intermittently supported by the conductor’s underlying but audible vocal obbligato; his grunts obtrude throughout at moments of particular intensity. The leading ladies sing the antique duet opening Scene 2 very engagingly and Biserka Cvejić then sings her morbid “Grave” aria… gravely. Valerija Heybal has a vibrant, slightly piercing soprano, maintaining a good line and animating Lisa’s distress feelingly; unfortunately she makes a bit of a mess of the climactic high note in her Act 3 aria. Dušan Popović was the leading company baritone and as part of the same series of recordings sang a lovely Eugene Onegin, a fine Shaklovity in Khovanshchina, a strong Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov and a splendid Prince Igor – quite a roster. Here he sings Yeletsky so has one of Tchaikovsky’s finest arias, “Ya vas lyublyu” and makes a predictably admirable job of it, including a good top G. Rich-voiced contralto Melanija Bugarinović makes a real impact as the old Countess; she is wonderful. The pastoral scene is beautifully sung by two of the best singers doubling roles and the sweet-voiced Sofija Janković.

There is no particular reason to purchase this if you already have any of the aforementioned recordings but if you simply want a good account of the opera Tchaikovsky - despite the success of Eugene Onegin - favoured above all others, performed by an excellent company, you will not be disappointed.

Ralph Moore

Performance details
Hermann – Aleksandar Marinković (tenor)
Count Tomsky – Jovan Gligorjiević (baritone)
Count Yeletsky – Dušan Popović (baritone)
Countess – Melanija Bugarinović (contralto)
Lisa – Valerija Heybal (soprano)
Polina – Biserka Cvejić (mezzo-soprano)
Chekalinsky – Deagutin Petrović (tenor)
Surin – Aleksandar Veselinović (bass)
Chaplitsky – Zivojin Iovanović (tenor)
Narumov – Vladimir Popović (bass)
Governess – Mira Verčević (mezzo-soprano)
Masha – Anne Jeninek (soprano)
Major-Domo – Nikola Janchich (tenor)
Prilepa/ChloŽ – Sofija Janković (soprano)
Milovsor/Daphnis – Biserka Cvejić (mezzo-soprano)
Zlatogor/Pluto – Jovan Gligorjiević (baritone)
Yugoslav Army Chorus; Children’s Choir of Radio Belgrade
Belgrade National Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Krešimir Baranović


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