Composer: Modest Mussorgsky
Orchestra: Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Jerzy Semkow
Number of Discs: 3
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Elite Classics
Size: 1 GB
Boris Godunov – Martti Talvela
Grigory (Dimitri) – Nicolai Gedda
Pimen – Leonard Mroz
Marina – Bozena Kinasz
Rangoni – Andrzej Hiolski
Varlaam – Aage Haugland
Missail – Kazimierz Pustelak
Shuisky – Bohdan Paprocki
Fyodor – Wiera Baniewicz
Xenia – Halina Lukomska
Nurse – Bozena Brun-Baranska
Shchelkalov – Andrzej Hiolski
Hostess of the Inn – Stefania Toczyska
Simpleton – Paulos Raptis
Police Officer – Kazimierz Sergiel
Boyar Khrushchov – Jan Goralski
Mitukha – Wlodzimierz Zalewski
Boyars and Jesuits – Wladyslaw Juroszek, Roman Dyllus, Piotr Komarek, Joachim Luks, Eugeni Uszjedrych
This is my desert island Boris. It’s the real thing!
This is the only recording of Boris Godunov you will need if you are budget conscious, or even if you own many recordings.
This is the original Mussorgsky orchestration in four acts, none of Rimsky-Korsakov’s upholstering or Shostakovitch’s or Stravinsky’s ‘improvements’. This is Mussorgsky raw and glorious and no other recording approaches this set conducted by Jerzy Semkow in visceral thrills and deeply moving beauty.
All you need to hear to know what I’m talking about is the Prologue, the magnificent set piece that ends with Boris Godunov appearing for the first time before the Russian people as their new czar. Frankly I do not recall a more spectacular recorded sound as EMI have achieved here. I didn’t think they had it in them!! The bells!!! This scene makes the most dazzling and egregious Super Bowl half time show seem tame and staid by comparison. The huge chorus is perfectly in focus without blowing out the speakers, and the nerve-tingling woodwinds are clearly heard above the din, with a multitude of tintinnabulation ricocheting off the walls as Boris slowly enters his royal porch to address the crowd. It gets even better. Martti Talvela. Since I first heard his portrayal of this tragic figure I can hear no other singer in the part with quite so much satisfaction and shear wallowing pleasure in the resplendence of that great Finnish bass. His Russian pronunciation is ECHT and he emotes a prism of emotional responses to the text. Talvela’s recorded Boris is one of the Himalayas of vocal performances you can buy. And as I’ve said, snap up this original release ASAP because you will find a wonderful booklet full of photographs, essays and a full libretto Russian, English, German and French. They don’t do it like this anymore.
I won’t detail the numberless moments of greatness in this recording. But there are some singers you’ve probably never heard of before, unless you were born and raised in the Eastern Bloc during the tyranny of the Russian communists. This recording is cast almost entirely by Polish singers from the Warsaw opera. Only Talvela, Aage Haugland (Varlaam) and Nicolai Gedda (Grigori) come from beyond the border, and all of them from Scandinavia. Leonard Mróz is a magnificent Pimen, and Andrzej Hiolski sings Shchelkalov and Rangoni with a beautifully vibrant baritone. None of these singers suffer from what many fear, the Slavonic wobbles.
I realize that the main female character, the princess Marina, is of great interest. You need not fear the name Bozena Kinasz. A forbidding handle to be sure but she sings with much finesse, and vehemence befitting an ambitious and conniving princess. She stands in no one else’s shadow in this difficult role. In fact most of these principal singers put most others, even Abbado’s starry cast on his Sony set from Berlin, in the deep shade.
Do not hesitate to snap this fine old EMI masterpiece up.