OP3399.KHOVANSCHINA (Moussorgsky), recorded 1991, Mariinsky Theatre, w.Gergiev Cond. Kirov Opera Ensemble; Olga Borodina, Yelena Prokina, Andrey Khovansky, Vladimir Galusin, Alexei Steblianko, Nikolai Ohotnikov, etc. 3-Philips 442 138, Slipcase Edition w.Elaborate Libretto-brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy. - 028943214728
“This is the third recording of KHOVANSHCHINA to have appeared in recent years, and all three of them use in various forms the version prepared by Shostakovich on the basis of Pavel Lamm's edition. As always with Mussorgsky, and never more so than in the case of this opera, the issues are complicated; and though most of the work's admirers would now agree that Shostakovich's orchestration is closer to the spirit of a composer he deeply admired than that of Rimsky-Korsakov, whose admiration led him to wish to 'sell' the work in the West, there are reservations to be made. One of the most important concerns the ending, which was to have been based on an Old Believer melody Mussorgsky had taken down from a friend. Rimsky-Korsakov added an orchestral figure representing flames for the immolation of the Old Believers, and brought back the Preobazhensky March; Shostakovich added to that a reminiscence of the Dawn music opening the opera; and Stravinsky used the intended tune plus two more, giving the ending a much more positive and balanced view of the Old Believers as not regressive and obscurantist but charged with dignity and Christian endurance.
The present version has other strengths. Not the least of them is the choral and orchestral contribution of what we surely should now again be able to call the Maryinsky Theatre. The all-important choruses are most beautifully sung, from the agitation of the Streltsy, the liveliness and grace of the Muscovites with their folk songs, the powerful tread of the Old Believers. There is a variety of tone, of weight, of intensity, of manner that reflects an ancient understanding of how all the different groups speak, or rather sing, as part of a collective experience. Gergiev encourages them intelligently, and accompanies throughout with much sensitivity.
The beautiful opening on the Moscow River is delicate, grey, understated; the introduction to Marfa's conjuration has a murkiness that prepares for her entry with just the right atmosphere and weight. She is well sung by Olga Borodina, fervent in the conjuration, strong and steady at her first entry intervening on behalf of the frightened Emma. This alarming scene is well handled. Yelena Prokina skilfully using Mussorgsky's rapid melodic fragments to suggest her terror as she is about to succumb to rape, Andrey Khovansky pursuing her with the exaggeration of the weak man who is over-asserting himself. Vladimir Galusin is, in his way, more effective than Andrey's father Ivan.
However, there is a reasonable balance of characterization between them. Alexei Steblianko's Golitsyn is fluent, in many ways attractively sung, but does not establish with full firmness and clarity his more thoughtful, Westernizer nature in distinction to the passionately Slavophile Khovansky. Dosifey, in his turn, risks much when sung by Nikolai Ohotnikov with a more human, troubled manner than is usual: his Act 1 prayer is beautifully done, but though it is an intelligent idea to seem to lead the Old Believers out of gentleness and a calmly assured faith, the music does ask for the inspired determination that finally takes them into the fire.
There is, then, much of interest in this new version, and some thoughtful and effective performances. It also includes a superbly comprehensive booklet.'
- John Warrack, GRAMOPHONE