OP1735. KHOVANSCHINA (Moussorgsky), Live Performance, 14 June, 1958, w.Rodzinski Cond. RAI Ensemble, Roma; Boris Christoff, Mario Petri, Amedeo Berdini, Mirto Picchi, Michele Malaspina, Irene Companez, etc. (E.U.) 2-Myto 00158. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8014399501583
"KHOVANSCHINA is an opera in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The work was written between 1872 and 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto based on historical sources. The opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881.
My regular readers know that my preference is for works to be presented complete, so I sympathize to a point with those who carp about cut scenes, but once in a great while an abridged performance comes along that is just so good in every respect that I make an exception. Such was the case with this KHOVANSHCHINA. I’ve listened to some of the later recordings that everyone else find so wonderful, particularly the Abbado version on DG, and found them wan and lackluster.
Thus for me, the glories of this recording far outweigh its few weaknesses, and this even includes the fact that it’s sung in Italian. Among these is the chance to hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration, replaced the very next year (1959) by Dmitri Shostakovich’s muddy, plodding score which is now the standard performing edition. Another reason I like it is the intense emotional commitment of every singer, undoubtedly helped by the presence of both Rodzinski and Boris Christoff, even though the latter’s Act I monologue sounds more snarly than subtle (but then again, Christoff was a snarly singer by nature). Even when the singers aren’t at their vocal best, like tenor Mirto Picchi (normally a very reliable singer), they’re in there giving their all. Irene Companéez, whose only studio recording seems to have been the 1959 LA GIOCONDA with Maria Callas on which she sang La Cieca…is much more in character here, displaying an almost Slavic sound to her voice. The fifth act is particularly impressive in every respect, with both Christoff and Companez at their dramatic best.
Yet as some other critics have pointed out, the real star of this performance is Rodzinski. Unlike some of his other Italian opera broadcasts, such as the TANNHÄUSER, he pulled everything together here with Toscanini-like tension and clarity. Nothing was allowed to sag dramatically, and he drew some extraordinary playing out of the RAI Orchestra. He was also able to browbeat the Rome chorus into singing musically, on pitch and without screeching, and conducted in a way that the rhythmic ‘spring’ of the orchestra leads both the solo singers and chorus. Once the ear adjusts to the mono radio sound, you’ll find it is consistently clear and decently balanced….this a worthwhile acquisition.
There’s a reason why this performance keeps getting reissued, and believe me, the sound quality isn’t it. It’s just a great performance that stands the test of time.”
- Lynn René Bayley, THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE, 6 July, 2017
“The story of KHOVANSHCHINA, like Boris Godunov, has its foundation in events in Russian history, in this case the conflict between old and new during the latter part of the 17th century just prior to the assumption of Peter the Great. The libretto was rounded out by Mussorgsky with much needed historical information gathered from many books. The opera was unfinished at the time of his death, but thanks to his friend Rimsky-Korsakov completed and orchestrated it.
The present live performance recorded in Rome in 1958 is led by Boris Christoff who sings the role of the leader of the Old Believers, Dosifei. Christoff's great knowledge of Russian history and her music helps him to interpret the role with a mastery undreamed of by any other singer. His beautiful and majestically solemn voice is capable of expressing a wide range of emotions and favouring the listener with purity and beauty of his vocal timbre is outstanding in the extreme registers. The Italian bass Mario Petri as Ivan Khovansky sings also beautifully and is an convincing interpreter. Irene Companez's Marfa is a great interpreter of her demanding role and her voice is beautiful and powerful. Tenor Mirto Picchi as Prince Andrei is well-known from other recordings, and baritone Giampiero Malaspina as Boyar Shaklovity are both excellent artists as is the rest of supporting cast. Despite certain cuts, the performance is outstanding and the sound is excellent for 1958.
Since Christoff's mother was Russian, I am sure he would have loved to sing it in Russian, but this is an Italian performance and in Italy every foreign opera was sung that that time in Italian. Highly recommended.”
- Peter Dietrich, 9 March, 2013
"Amedeo Berdini, possessor of a voice of real weight, coupled with a warm timbre, was a true lirico spinto, whose mentor, Gigli, opened the way to what seemed destined to be a great career. This tragically was cut short by his early death at the age of 44. Arias from Pietri's Maristella, Catalani's Loreley, Gomes' Salvator Rosa and Lo Schiavo, and a passionate Madama Butterfly love duet with Pina Malgarini will impress by their commitment and highly-compelling interpretations."
- Alan Bilgora, A NEW GOLDEN AGE OF FORGOTTEN TENORS
"Artur Rodzinski was born in Split, the capital of Dalmatia on 1 January, 1892. In Vienna, his teachers included Josef Marx and Franz Schreker (composition), Franz Schalk (conducting), and Emil von Sauer and Jerzy Lalewicz (piano). He returned to Lwow where he was engaged as chorus master at the Opera House, making his debut as a conductor in 1920 with Verdi's ERNANI. The following year saw him conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Warsaw Opera House. While visiting Poland, Leopold Stokowski heard Rodzinski leading a performance of Wagner's DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NURNBERG and exclaimed 'I have found that rare thing, a born conductor!' and invited him to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Between 1925 and 1929 he served as Stokowski's assistant, conducted for the Philadelphia Grand Opera and directed the opera and orchestral departments at the Curtis Institute of Music. From 1929 to 1933, Rodzinski became the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, garnering praise not only for his interpretations but for his innovative programming. From 1933 to 1943, he was music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, developing it into one of the foremost orchestras in America. He engaged new musicians and raised the playing standards to a very high level. His programs were innovative, offering works such as the first performance in America of Shostakovich's opera LADY MACBETH OF THE MTSENSK DISTRICT, which gained the orchestra national attention. Between December 1939 and February 1942, Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra made an extensive series of recordings for the Columbia Records label. During this time he appeared with the New York Philharmonic in 1934 and 1937, when his concert performance of Richard Strauss' ELEKTRA aroused great enthusiasm. Rodzinski was also active in Europe, becoming the first naturalized American citizen to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and 1937. At Arturo Toscanini's recommendation, Rodzinski was engaged by NBC to select the musicians for the new NBC Symphony Orchestra. He rigorously trained the orchestra and conducted its first concerts in 1937, before the arrival of Toscanini.
Rodzinski was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1943. Though his four-year tenure was marked by considerable acrimony with Arthur Judson, the powerful manager of the orchestra, Rodzinski achieved high standards of performance. The renowned music critic and composer Virgil Thomson wrote about Rodzinski's tenure at the Philharmonic: 'We now have an orchestra that is a joy to hear...and we owe it all to Artur Rodzinski'. During Rodzinski's time on the podium the Philharmonic recorded extensively, again for Columbia, performed weekly live broadcasts on CBS Radio, and appeared in the feature film CARNEGIE HALL.
Despite, however, the quality of the orchestra's performances, numerous artistic matters such as the prerogative of the music director to dismiss musicians, select soloists and determine repertoire were persistent grounds of contention. Not willing to compromise on these matters, Rodzinski resigned in 1947. His reputation as a conductor was so prominent at this time that his resignation was the subject of a cover story in TIME MAGAZINE in February 1947. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had been wooing Rodzinski for some time and now he decided to immediately accept the leadership of that orchestra starting with the 1947-1948 season. Here again, an inability to work with the board resulted in his swift departure after only one season. His short tenure still had a significant impact upon the orchestra and local audiences through performances such as a legendary account of Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE with Kirsten Flagstad.
After his departure from Chicago, Rodzinski's health began to deteriorate. There was little recording activity available to him in the U.S. and he settled in Europe once more. Here, his status as a major musician was recognized and he was invited to lead significant productions, such as the 1953 first performance of Prokofiev's WAR AND PEACE at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, as well as traditional repertoire works. He conducted at La Scala and also worked extensively for Italian radio, conducting well received readings of Wagner's TANNHÃ„USER and TRISTAN, and Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV and KHOVANSHCHINA. He re-established his presence as a recording artist through a contract with Westminster Records, for whom he recorded extensively with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London from 1955. His final recordings were for EMI in 1958. By this time Rodzinski's health was fragile. He was warned by his Italian doctor that further conducting activity would put his life at risk. However, he returned to Chicago in 1958 to conduct TRISTAN once again, this time with the Chicago Lyric Opera and soprano Birgit Nilsson. His return was a triumph, but these were his last performances and he died shortly afterwards."
- Ned Ludd