The basso cantante is not so common a voice category and although Nicolai Ghiaurov could happily cross into another bass Fach and make a fine job of either Leporello or even the bass-baritone role of the Don, his finest qualities are displayed in roles which exploit his seamless legato and noble tone. I am thus particularly pleased that so many of the items here are from Russian operas, in which, I think, he was almost unequalled. Certainly no other coeval bass had his smooth resonance; his equally Bulgarian compatriot Christoff was a different kind of singer, although they had much in common apart from nationality: both married Italians and were domiciled in Italy, shared a good deal of repertoire in common and each cordially loathed the other.
Ghiaurov had a long career, singing, often with Mirella Freni whose second husband he was, well into the 90's which was rather beyond the advisable as during the 80's the voice began to grow rusty and lose its famous rolling effulgence. So it is just as well that the sixteen tracks here were all recorded between 1962 and 1965, in Ghiaurov's youthful prime. For a singer so celebrated in Verdi it is a pity that we have no Fiesco, Banquo or of course King Philip but those roles are well represented on complete recordings and there is no doubt in my mind that for all his versatility, Ghiaurov is best heard in Russian opera. Especially fine here are his aria from "A Life for the Tsar" ("Ivan Susanin" in post-Tsarist Soviet Russia) and the gravely beautiful declaration of love by Prince Gremin in "Eugene Onegin" - but all the Russian arias are gems, including those that require a more humorous, rumbustious approach such as those from "Prince Igor".
There is no Boris here - but again, there is a complete recording under Karajan which I recommend, and as recompense we have his Pimen's Narrative. Ghiaurov's versatility is apparent even within the eight Russian operas here but he also sings Mozart, Bizet, Gounod, Massenet and Meyerbeer in reasonable French and the first in good Italian.
Edward Downes and the LSO provide expert accompaniment. Texts, photos and a discography are provided on the irritating CD-Rom format common to this "The Singers" series.