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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.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 September 2015
It is an undeniable fact that Rimsky-Korsakov's rescoring negates some of the terrible suffering in Mussorgsky's masterpiece by smoothing over the rawness of the composer's original orchestration and reducing it to a series of striking tableaux - rather like many of Rimsky's own operas. Additionally, the careful profundity of Karajan's interpretation to some degree also undermines its dramatic impact; it is doubtful whether we really want the burnished beauty of the VPO strings rather than the jagged dynamism of a real Russian orchestra such as plays the score for Ermler in his Bolshoi recording with a Boris in Nesterenko of similar amplitude and majesty to Ghiaurov's superb assumption here. Indeed, if you really want the Rimsky orchestration, I think that Bolshoi recording remains the first choice even over this magnificent version by virtue of its authentic bite and propulsiveness. Nonetheless, I wouldn't want to be without Ghiaurov's tortured Tsar; those who hear an under-characterised Boris aren't really listening to the subtlety of Ghiaurov's snarling, "Akha, Shuysky knyaz!"; it is a masterpiece of barely controlled rage and contempt. Likewise, his demented agony in the clock scene following Shuisky's narrative concerning the dead princeling Dimitri is immensely powerful and convincing. Of course the smooth beauty of his bass is never in question and he isn't as overtly histrionic as some predecessors but it is a real singer-actor's performance.

The supporting cast, while not always as striking, is often superb, as with Talvela's equally restrained and nuanced Pimen, and is never less than adequate, even if certain roles, such as the Shchelkalov of Sabin Markov, are palely sung in comparison with exponents such as Vassily Gerello for Gergiev. Spiess is rather good as the Pretender, the strenuous, near-hysterical note in his tenor entirely apt for the part. Kélémén's oleaginous Rangoni is smoothly and elegantly sung, Vishnevskaya, dramatically pointed and impassioned as Marina, is more comfortable at this stage of her career in the mezzo tessitura, still having enough lower register to do the role justice and mostly eschewing the dreaded Slavic wobble up top.

While I still esteem Christoff's tour de force for Dobrowen and recommend Gergiev's 5 CD double-bill of the 1869 and 1872 versions as first choice, there is much to enjoy in this carefully wrought, exquisitely played version by Karajan in 1970. The conductor grunts and groans throughout and is obviously feeling every moment of the score; this is no slick, superficial run-through even if it occasionally lacks visceral impact and flirts with some ponderous tempi.

Devotees of Ghiaurov need not hesitate, nor need you fear that Karajan is too effete. Furthermore, we get the St Basil and Kromy Forest scenes, so this is a musically complete version - as long as you enjoy Rimsky's sanitised orchestration. Personally, I want enough versions to be able to experience this great opera in its various guises and hear the eponymous title-role sung by as many great basses as possible, so this recording featuring Ghiaurov takes its place alongside my other favourites: Reizen, London, Christoff and Nesterenko while the Gergiev survey - starring Putilin and Vaneev as Boris in the earlier and later versions respectively and both very fine - remains equally indispensable both for artistic and musicological reasons.

(The latest "DG Originals" remastering has removed the harshness apparent in the earlier CD issue.)
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on 1 June 2012
Irrespective of the merits of Rimsky's orchestration of Mussorgsky it should be remembered for the spirit in which it was undertaken and it did earn the opera a permanent place in the repertoire. This recording is as much a theatrical experience as any live version that I have encountered. The cast is excellent and the orchestral playing superb and both are enhanced by a conductor well experienced in the opera house and a recording team that knew its business. That said I still get out from time to time my LPs of Bolshoi recording of many years ago featuring George London as Boris and a very good cast. I wouldn't be without either. Then of course there was Rossi Lemeni.............
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on 15 March 2011
To speak of Mussorgsky, is to wade into a seething mire of politics....so much of Russian music was shaped, forced and even 'an answer to' political strictures. Some feel that Mussorgsky's music should have been left as the composer himself left it. I regard him as a towering monument of passion and above-all-else, soul. For a while, Mussorgsky was my favourite composer and Khovanschina my favourite opera; Boris, a close second.

We debate whether the quality of his operatic compositions was his intended catharsis or if this was somehow incomplete and therefore..... 'unrefined'?? Well, Rimsky-Korsakov could never take credit for Boris. Boris was completed and even revised by Mussorgsky himself before Rimsky-Korsakov touched it. In my view, Rimsky-Korsakov went too far to speak of absurdities in Mussorgsky's harmonic development, etc., and it would have been better to say that he was composing a variation, not a correction. Either way (and that might just be splitting hairs), the work is unquestionably Mussorgsky's intellectual property. I doubt Rimsky-Korsakov would have tried to assert otherwise, though his criticisms of Mussorgsky's technique were ungracious.

THIS recording however, is one I do love and recommend, simply because (politics aside), it is brilliant. Yes, it may lack the rough-hewn feel but frankly, I'm good without that, thank you. For this reason, I've always loved von Karajan. I might add that I generally am not a fan of Gergiev, and his Borises proved no exceptions to my taste. So different tastes prevail here. This recording has many merits, including the singers, orchestra and conductor. Ghiaurov's Boris is a towering monument and a most moving portrayal, invoking memories of the legendary Boris Christoff. Martti Talvela is superb as the old monk....like Parsifal's Gournemantz, he needs to be interesting, and is. As Grogory/Dimitrij, Spiess is in secure, expressive form. This is one of Vishnevskaya's best recordings, for me (along with her Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk). Overall, the cast is superb but special mention to Maslennikov 2 roles: a very idiomatic and well characterised Simpleton and a most DELICIOUUSLY venomous Shiusky!! The chorus is simply awesome, and the 'Uspne!' whispered at Boris' death is the very pinnacle of spectral wonder! It is a recording unlike any other and some may consider it to be 'too western' but if you want an objective reflection of history, perhaps think on this: Rimsky-Korsakov (wrongly or rightly) interfered with Mussorgsky's work, and this was the result. Historic fact. As for THIS recording.....something tells me that Rimsky-Korsakov would have liked it a lot!
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on 9 November 2015
Excellent, soloists very good, recording good,
would recommend
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on 20 March 2008
Go check out the reviews on the American site for a full ventilation and make your own mind up - suffice to say that this is the best version as orchestrated by by Rimsky.

Never mind all that! If you love opera and/or choral music, you simply cannot do without Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov! Buy it, you'll never regret it!

Don't be put-off by other people not liking this recording or this review - they probably love themselves more than the music!
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on 21 June 2008
If you yet insist in hear this masterpiece in these criminal "revision" by Korsakow , this is not the the best recording.The singers are good but the conductor think that it is Puccini.But if you want to know Boris in the way the author wrote, you must hear the recordings of Gergiev, Abbado, Fedoseyev , Tchakarow....Hearing this "soft" version you will hear less than the half of one of the most...
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