V2541. MARK REIZEN, w.Abram Makarov (Pf.): Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Glinka, Tschaikowsky & Kabalevsky; Gomes' SALVATOR ROSA - 'E il foglio io segnero' and an inimitable 'La Calunnia' from IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA; w.Leonid Adamov (Cello): Doubt (Glinka) - Live Recital, 15 March, 1958, Moscow; w.Janos Ferencsik Cond. Hungarian State Opera Ensemble, w.Endre Rosler & Oszkar Kalman: BORIS GODUNOV - Finale - Live Performance, 7 March, 1954. (Russia) Aquarius AQVR 408. [This new jewel from Aquarius is not to be missed - a phenomenal Live Recital by the beloved and magnificent Reizen, in the presence of a rapturous Moscow audience, captured in glorious sound!] - 4607123631911
“If you want a shock (a pleasant one), go to YouTube and search ‘Mark Reizen 90’. You will find yourself watching Reizen singing Prince Gremin’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN, in a gala performance that was given in honor of the great bass’s 90th birthday. That is not a typo. Everyone I have watched this video with has sat in complete amazement at the evenness of vocal production, the power of the singing, and Reizen’s ability to convey the sense of satisfaction that Gremin feels with his marriage to Tatiana. Does it sound like a singer in his prime? No. It sounds like a singer beginning to approach the end of a major career, perhaps a singer in his sixties. But ninety? During the aria, the camera shows the other members of the cast looking on in adoring admiration and awe.
Reizen was one of the most important basses produced in Russia in the 20th century. He was born in 1895 and died in 1992, seven years after that 1985 gala. He clearly knew how to preserve his voice, but never did Reizen give the impression of holding back when he sang. If you asked many opera scholars and vocal collectors to name the greatest basses of the century, I suspect that the names of Ezio Pinza, Fyodor Chaliapin, Igor Kipnis, and Mark Reizen would be on more lists than any other. But Reizen is less known by the general public because he mainly sang at a time when Soviet artists didn’t travel.
The story of his move to the Bolshoi has been told in many sources. By the 1920s he was already a leading bass at the Mariinsky Theater in Leningrad and had also toured in Europe. In 1930 the Mariinsky was performing in Moscow, and Stalin attended. Afterwards he asked Reizen why he sang in Leningrad and not Moscow, and Reizen replied that he had a contract and also an apartment there. Stalin indicated that he could do something about both, and the next day a Soviet official picked Reizen up with orders to hunt for an apartment in Moscow! From 1930-1954 he was the leading bass at the Bolshoi, but this was also the height of the era when Russia closed itself off from the rest of the world, and so Europe and America heard very little of Reizen.
One of my favorite vocal critics is Conrad L. Osborne, who wrote in the METROPOLITAN OPERA GUIDE TO RECORDED OPERA, ‘Reizen is stupendous. His lush, voluminous basso rolls through the music unconstrainedly. It sits easily at the bottom, peals forth brilliant Fs and F-sharps at the top (and one hair-raising high G), and in between displays flowing line and a mezza voce that rivals prime Pinza or Chaliapin. Ruslan's heroic fire and tenderness are there - it’s a complete piece of work’. John Steane, in THE GRAND TRADITION, writes this about Reizen: ‘The voice was also completely unified, its range well displayed in Khan Kontchak’s solo from PRINCE IGOR, descending with deep bass relish to the low F, and always easy in production. His was a wholesome art: another singer for students. Also one of the best of our century’.
Reizen was a very different singer from his great predecessor Chaliapin, who had a similar kind of dark, rolling bass, but whose presence also overwhelmed the listener with dramatic intensity, frequently using theatrical touches to emphasize a dramatic point. The style can come off as histrionic, that some found excessive. Don’t take this the wrong way - Chaliapin was a very great and exciting artist. Reizen, however, preferred to use more purely musical means to make his effect. He conveyed power through the sheer size and dark richness of his voice, and he was an extremely effective Boris (as you can hear on the bonus here). But he was equally at home in Schubert Lieder (Chaliapin sang them but not as comfortably). His strengths, in addition to a uniquely rich sound from top to bottom with all registers perfectly blended, included a bel canto-like legato.
Those strengths were still intact in 1958, even at the age of 63, and they are consonant with the needs of most of the song repertoire on this new release. Do not assume from what I wrote that Reizen holds back when power is needed; he is capable of letting loose a huge, rich roar of sound when the music and text require it. Reizen can extend a line of soft singing over a long span (as in Schubert’s ‘An die Musik’, beautifully rendered here). In fact Reizen’s singing of the Schubert and Schumann songs, even though in Russian, demonstrates a very high level of musical cultivation. You are also likely to be surprised by the agility of the voice in the Rossini aria. Reizen sings it with infectious wit. It is also worth noting that in a live concert setting he is a more vivid interpreter than we often experience on his studio recordings. He is clearly having fun interacting with his audience. Mussorgsky’s ‘Song of the Flea’ is a particularly winning performance.
Abram Makarov was Reizen’s regular accompanist for over 40 years, and the two are in complete synchronization at all points. The monaural recorded sound is quite good, because it was taken from an official broadcast. Aquarius has been a remarkable source of many important Russian recordings in recent years (the releases are available through Norbeck, Peters & Ford). The quality of their transfers is excellent. I understand the economic constraints that prevent them from providing texts and translations, although I wish they would do so online, even at a cost to the customer, since most listeners won’t have texts for much of this material. Aquarius has included the voice of the presenter, who announces each item on the program for the both the radio audience and those in the hall. He isn’t tracked separately, so you can’t skip his contribution easily, but I rather enjoyed his presence for adding to the atmosphere of a broadcast event.
Then there is the bonus. Reizen made a classic studio recording of BORIS GODUNOV in 1948, but hearing him in the finale of the opera (ending with Boris’s death in this version) in a live staged performance from 1954 is especially thrilling. This is an extraordinarily powerful rendering of this music, both dramatically and vocally. The Shuisky is fine, but the Pimen is wobbly and hollow-voiced. Ferencsik conducts with incisiveness and power. The sound, as before, is very good.
It is early in the year, but I would anticipate that this will stand out as one of the most significant vocal releases of 2018. Hearing Mark Reizen is an electrifying and awe-inspiring experience.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“A superb singer and powerful actor with a highly expressive, rich voice of astonishing color and range, [Reizen’s] forte was legendary, but he also had a pianissimo so expressive it could stop a rehearsal to allow Natalia Shpiller singing opposite him to regain her composure, while the rest of the cast were drying their eyes.”
- Richard D. Sylvester, TCHAIKOVSKY’S COMPLETE SONGS
“Certainly one of the most sonorous, expressive and beautifully-controlled bass voices ever to have been recorded was that of Mark Reizen. He was a legend in his own lifetime in Russia and, at the age of 90, he was still able to make a remarkable stage appearance, singing Prince Gremin in EUGEN ONÉGIN….one of the greatest bass singers of the 20th century.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2010