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Remarkably good, not at all disturbing
on 10 November 2014
Generally, I am not a fan of opera but Boris Godunov is one of the few that I really love. But which version? Only a few days ago I saw a live production of the original version with the Mariinsky Opera conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Barbican (3rd November 2014 in London), enjoyed it greatly, but not without reservations. At the time, I could not articulate what they were but, after listening to brief recorded extracts of a few CD sets currently available, including the Christoff which was the first I checked out, and now finally the Decca Originals, I most certainly can.
Russia is a strange country, very modern and sophisticated. but evidently very much affected by a history over many, many centuries that is utterly terrible. It prevails over the people there today, even those who have no knowledge of their past. Just before the real life Boris Godunov, several tsars had been murdered and there is nothing that allows one to be sure whether or not Boris Godunov was implicated in one of them
But Russia's violent history is not restricted to that period, not at all. The effects are with the whole world even today and Russians so mistrust everyone that even now, Vladimir Putin wants to take us to Cold War II.
So the question remains, which is the better recording of Boris Godunov? Should one be true to Mussorgsky's intentions or is the more glossy approach of Rimsky-Korsakov justified? Normally, I would choose authenticity but here I have to make an exception.
I am only about a third of the way through listening to FLAC files I downloaded for it late last night and the only slight criticisms I have are a few hardly noticeable, tiny dropouts and the massed voices sometimes slightly raspy and edgy, slightly sibilant at times, but not as much as when I heard a similar choir live at the Barbican eight days ago!
Maybe the original version of the opera conveys the brutality of the story and the times but in my view it does that by making the music primitive and disturbing, in my view often unmusical. That is very clever, of course, no doubt precisely what was intended. But, if you love the beauty and depth of the best of Russian music, then this recording, the quality of the voices and the interpretation are superb. From tapes remastered from 1970 this is remarkable. You will not too often hear as good a sound in a premium recording made today.