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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undoubtedly a dog's breakfast - but still compelling, 21 Feb. 2011
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mussorgsky:Boris Godunov (Audio CD)
The recording history of "Boris" in Russia in combination with the plethora of choices open to conductors regarding which version to use, can make it the devil's own job to choose which you should buy - and when you have the discs in your hands, deciphering what you've actually got can be equally challenging.

This 2 CD set is the 1948 recording made with Mark Reizen - in my opinion, the greatest Russian bass, and I include Chaliapin. It has the same cast as the one recorded a year later with Pirogov, who is undoubtedly gripping and more histrionic than Reizen but vocally less secure - especially in pitch. Both are in historic mono but perfectly acceptable and it is worth the sacrifice in sound to hear such extraordinarily vivid and idiomatic performances - and some would argue that the period sound adds an archaic atmosphere and verisimilitude to these absorbing accounts. Some editions run to three discs and include the St Basil scene recorded later by Reizen with Nebolsin conducting, but that is missing on this two disc set. Still another 3 CD issue on Preiser gives you the complete Pirogov recording with all the scenes from this set featuring Boris as recorded here by Reizen as a bonus - but no St Basil. Make your choice!

This set is missing not only the St Basil scene but the first scene of the Act 3, so the first Polish scene has gone and Rangoni is completely missing. There are also the "standard" cuts to the Pimen scene and the second act, although extras from the 1872 revision, such as the Hostess's "grey drake" song and the folk songs sung by the Nurse are grafted in. We do also get a concluding Kromy Forest scene, rather than ending with the death of Boris. So this is a patchwork which borrows some of the highlights from the 1872 version.

There are no weaknesses in the cast who are all Bolshoi regulars of the period. Particularly worthy of note - after Reizen's magisterial Boris, of course - are the great Georgy Nelepp as Grigory, Nikhander Khanayev as Shuisky and the grand baritone Ilya Bogdanov as Shechelkalov. Maksim Mikhailov's Pimen is wondrously grave and sonorous; Reizen also recorded Pimen and Varlaam later but it is more satisfying to avoid the aural treble-takes Christoff causes us in his two tours de force, and to have different, top quality Russian basses in those three roles.

This should perhaps be only a supplementary recording for reasons of the sound and the edition (if I may dignify it with such a word); real aficionados will want the Gergiev 5 disc set with both versions and Mussorgsky's original orchestration, one of Christoff's hugely entertaining but almost inexcusably self-aggrandising, multi-role sets (I prefer the earlier Dobrowen over the Cluytens), perhaps a Rimsky version and George London in the eponymous role, preferably in his superb highlights disc (see my review) conducted by Schippers rather than the 1963 full recording (Rimsky version, of course), when he was less steady.
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Mussorgsky:Boris Godunov
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