Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Modest Mussorgsky, Claudio Abbado, Dmitry Shostakovich|
Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina - Abbado
Listen to Samples
Heart and soul
S Duncan | London | 07/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those unfamiliar with this work or Mussorgsky in general, in my opinion he is one of the most sincere composers to have ever lived. He did not receive formal musical training and he was an alcoholic but the man had a passion that makes you want to stand next to him on a funeral pyre.Khovanshchina is based on the so-called `Khovansky Affair'. The plot: there are plans afoot, effected by the frightening Shaklovity (Anatolij Kotscherga) to slander the Khovanskys and their riotous Streltsy (brigands) as well as the fanatical Old Believers who are led by the priest Dosifei (Paata Burchuladze). Shaklovity dictates a letter to this effect, sending it anonymously (using a hilarious and dramatic scribe) to Tsar Peter and the Imperial Council.As a sub-plot, Andrei Khovansky (Vladimir Atlantov) is enamoured with a captured Lutheran girl, Emma (Joanna Barowska), upon whom he tries to force his affections. He is interrupted and the girl saved by his former intended, Marfa (Marjana Lipovsek), a clairvoyant and Old Believer. His father, Ivan Khovansky (Aage Haugland) enters and tries to sieze Emma for himself. The ensuing argument is broken up by the arrival of Dosifei, who orders the girl's safe conduct.Nxt scene: Reading a letter from his lover, the Tsaryevna Sofia (whom it was forbidden to Mussorgsky to fully characterise in the opera), Prince Vasily Golitsyn (Vladimir Popov) discards her affections with bitter irony. He summons Marfa to foretell his future, which she does (dramatically) to Mussorgsky's dark, haunting and evocative strains (summoning spirits). She foretells of his fall from power and his exile. He orders her out and sends a servant to dispatch her in the swamp (which she later narrowly escapes). Ivan Khovansky enters accusing the Prince of cutting the 'few' privileges of the brutish nobility (himself foremost). The ensuing cynicism is interrupted again by Dosifei, who chides them both before he too bridles at the Prince -Popov's searing response to Burchuladze's roaring chastisement!- All are interrupted by a breathless Lipovsek (i.e., Marfa), much to the Prince's horror, who enters to announce her salvation at the hands of the Tsar's men. Their presence is explained by the arrival of Shaklovity: the Khovanskys are condemned by the Tsar for their plotting against the state ("Khovanshchina").In the next scene, Marfa, while reflecting on her love for Andrei, is reproached by the overly-pious Susanna. Again, Dosifei interrupts to restore order as he, in turn, chides Susanna for her judgemental attack. After a mirky and brooding introduction, Shaklovity enters to mull on the pending demise of a sleeping Russia. The rambunctious Streltsy begin the next scene with a rustic chorus almost guaranteed to put a laconic smile at the corner of your mouth (Mussorgsky had such a brilliant affair with choruses and, just as in Boris Godunov, it's evident here). Their wives (chorus) enter to reproach them gruffly for their display and their past carryings-on. The same animated scribe from the first scene bursts in to inform the group of the Tsar's displeasure with the Streltsy and the presence of the Tsar's guards. They forego retaliation in fear of the Tsar's unbridled wrath and fearfully decide to submit, ending the Act in a tense, very `Russian' prayer.The final Act opens in Ivan Khovansky's home. His servant enters to inform him of his peril but he dismisses him in arrogance. He summons his young Persian slaves to dance for him (the famous 'Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens', here executed with concert-quality brilliance under Abbado's expert baton). Shaklovity interrupts to bring an (false) invitation from Tsaryevna Sofia. While preparing himself (in his supreme belligerence and arrogance)to the 'Swan Song', Ivan is violently stabbed to death (replete with a terrible scream of outrage) by Shaklovity, who mockingly sings one verse from the Swan Song over his body (with 'oily' malevolence!). Then the brooding, menacing interlude.The closing scenes see Prince Golitsyn being carted off to exile in the St. Basil's Square while Dosifei intones his retribution. The chords here are amazing and Paata Burlchuldze's plumbing, sonorous bass is equal to the task. I throw caution to the wind and say that the music must have been the very epitome of Russia's mood during those dark times. Marfa tells Dosifei that the Old Believers are next on the Tsar's list. Dosifei sees the chance for their martyrdom and instructs Marfa to persuade Andrei to join them for his own salvation. Here, Lipovsek displays her lovely, dramatic voice: she sweeps you away with her mournful reflection on a smooth, full-throated (not loud) golden wave. Then enters the besotted Andrei, who refuses Marfa's pleas, until she becomes more spiritually focused....even sarcastic. They then rush off as the Streltsy are brought into the square to be executed. With their heads virtually on the block, a messenger enters to announce their pardon by the Tsar.The final scene sees the Old Believers at their quarter, which they enter and set aflame as trumpets sound in the distance to announce the approaching forces of the Tsar. This momentous immolation scene bears Stravinsky's unmistakeable signature. Even so, the opera as a whole is 'Mussorgskian' through and through (even with the revisions by Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich and Stravinsky).I feel this music unlike any other. No atonality or dissonance. Some characters even have 'lietmotifs'. The music is DEEP and generally dark, though there is humour....and the work in ANYTHING BUT boring. Betrayal, love, lust, ridicule, sarcasm, arrogance, humour...it's all there in superior quality. The singers are generally very good and the chorus is awesome. Abbado's praises defy even my superlatives! My only complaint is the clumsy wobble of Vladimir Atlantov as Andrei. How unbecoming of a tenor, but you can write it off as part of Andrei's generally unlikeable character. He doesn't really feature that much, aside from his whining tantrums anyway. Finally, you wont even know this is a live performance until you hear the applause at the end.This is the next logical step after Boris Godunov."
An Opera Worth Exploring
Timothy Kearney | Hull, MA United States | 11/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the things I find fascinating about 19th century Russian music is that in many ways, it was a collaborative effort. A small community of composers believed in the importance of music and creating a nationalistic sound and worked toward that effort. Some of the composers included Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Borodin, Balkariev, and Mussorgsky. Of course they often discounted and criticized the work of Russia's best known and perhaps most gifted composer, Tchaikovsky, but still they did give us a great variety of music. It also seems that making sure the music was performed was a top priority, and incomplete or unfinished scores were not an obstacle but a challenge. Works that were not completed were completed by others, and if this were not the case the world of opera would be missing not only Borodin's PRINCE IGOR but Mussorgsky's BORIS GODOUNOV and KHOVANSHINA.
To say KHOVANSCHINA was a draft is an understatement. Composing was not always Mussorgsky's top priority. Combine this with an unhappy life and a severe drinking problem and you have a fragmented at best work. Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov was the first to attempt a version of the work that could be staged. Its greatness was immediately recognized. Later Igor Stravinsky tried to recreate some scenes and finally Dmitri Shostakovich reworked passages and is largely responsible for the work as we know it today. It is an epic opera based on events during the time of Peter the Great. The story involves royal intrigue, rebellion, and a love story: all common fare in Russian opera. There are grand choral scenes as well as haunting arias and duets.
I first heard KHOVANSCHINA in a Metropolitan Opera Broadcast and found it interesting, but also saw ways in which it could drag if the conductor or soloists were not in top form. This is the reason I selected the set under the direction of Claudio Abbado. Many classical music reviewers have praised Abbado's familiarity and comfortably with the score and this proves true in this set. The Vienna Staatsoper is in the handful of great opera houses in the world. Since this is a live recording from a famed opera house with a top conductor, I felt that it would at least be reasonably good. In truth, it's magnificent. The orchestra and chorus are phenomenal. The nuances of the score come to life in this recording. The choral scenes are powerful and alone are worth owning the recording. The soloists include Russian greats Vladimir Atlantov, Vladimir Popov, and Marjana Lipovsek. Since KHOVANSCHINA has been performed in Russia more than in the west, soloists who have performed the work regularly are essential. While this is a live recording and prone to all sorts of distracting sounds, the engineers seemed to have done their job. It's clean and with a few exceptions (audience applause, a few coughs and some stage noise) had very little background noise.
The libretto has great notes on the opera as well as its interesting but complicated history and is a bonus for a great set.
Mussorgsky's Underappreciated Second Opera
Christopher McKoy | La Canada Flintridge, CA United States | 01/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Khovanshchina - "The Khovansky Affair" is Mussorgsky's second full opera, though like several of his other operatic projects, it was never entirely completed. Nonetheless, it exists in a version that is far more complete than any of his other projected and semi-complete operas. Khovanshchina was never orchestrated by Mussorgsky and its closing scene was left incomplete at his death, its complete score existing only in a version for piano.
This version of Khovanshchina is a live performance under the baton of Claudio Abbado, arguably one of the greatest of Mussorgsky's contemporary interpreters (his Boris Godunov is also very good). Occasionally the sound quality does not quite measure up to a studio recording, but overall it is very good. The singing is almost uniformly strong, but three voices stand out above the rest: as Old Believer Dosifey, Paata Burchuldaze, a Georgian bass whose deep voice projects an unmatched power that one has to hear to believe, as Shaklovity, Ukrainian bass-baritone Anatoly Kutcherga, who also performs the lead role in Abbado's Boris Godunov, and Slovenian soprano Marjana Lipovsek who plays Marfa.
Khovanshchina is not as unified a work as Boris Godunov and suffers from a sprawling plot and libretto. But the music is for the most part every bit as gripping as that of Boris Godunov and features some of Mussorgsky's most memorable moments, a few of which are known in concert performance versions, including the opening prelude and Golitsyn's journey.
The final immolation scene in Khovanshchina in which the Orthodox "Old Believers" burn themselves rather than adapt to the reforms of Peter the Great (though censorship forbade direct reference to any Romanov monarch) was completed by Shostakovich but also by Stravinsky, which version is used in this recording. It is based on Mussorgsky's sketches and is powerfully effective. There are two standard versions of this final scene: one completed by Shostakovich and one completed by Stravinsky. This performance features the end created by Stravinsky and it is very satisfying and cathartic (see my two listmania lists on cathartic operatic closing scenes, which includes both Khovanshchina and Boris Godunov, whose closing scene is of course a masterpiece of operatic pathos).
To dispel some of the confusion usually associated with Mussorgsky's operatic works and to place Khovanshchina within its appropriate context in Mussorgsky's brilliant but all-too-brief creative life, here is a list of his operatic projects, in rough chronological order:
1.) Salammbo, based on the work by Flaubert. Salammbo was never completed but features some beautiful music and a few of its arias were recycled to become some of Boris Godunov's finest moments. It is generally thought to be the most lyrical and also most conventional of Mussorgsky's operatic projects. To my knowledge, there is only one recording of Salammbo, which was arranged into six `scenes' and performed in Italy in the early 1980s. It is on the Fonit Cetra label and available from Amazon.co.uk
2.) The Marriage (sometimes translated as "The Wedding"), after the work by Nicolai Gogol, the Russian author who recently experienced brief public exposure with the film adaptation of The Namesake. The Marriage is in essence an experiment in the theories of sung speech that Mussorgsky was at this time developing, ideas that are akin to those developed more than half a century later by Leos Janacek. It almost entirely lacks lyricism, and therefore balance, and is accordingly difficult listening. But the payoff would come in Mussorgsky's later projects. Mussorgsky came to believe that opera should be as realistic as possible (but in a way different from that of Italian `verismo' opera) and that therefore there should not be conventional arias, but rather the music should conform to the sounds of sung speech (a practice that would be taken even further by Janacek in his final four operas). The Marriage is therefore Mussorgsky's most unconventional operatic project, and Mussorgsky only composed the first act, although Mikhail Ipolitov-Ivanov finished the work in the twentieth century. There is no recording of The Marriage on CD but an LP recording of Ipolitov-Ivanov's version is still available. Try www.mikrokosmos.com
3.) Boris Godunov, which drew on the lyricism of Salammbo and the difficult speech-song of The Marriage to create the greatest of Russian operas and one of the masterpieces of Nineteenth Century European music.
4.) Khovananshchina is in certain respects similar to Boris Godunov in its use of a historical narrative, though one from a hundred years after the events of Boris. On the whole the music is perhaps even more lyrical than Boris Godunov, though in other respects even more Russian.
5.) Sorochinsky Fair, which was Mussorgsky's last project, on which he worked during breaks in the composition of Khovanshchina. The opera has been put together in a working version from fragments and is surprisingly effective. It features some memorable music, in particular a very fine aria by the lead female character, which is Mussorgsky at his most lyrical and almost Tchaikovsy-esque. There is a recording of Sorochinsky Fair on CD, but it is hard to track down.
6.) Pugachevshchina (The Pugachev Affair), which remained at the level of an idea for an opera, though Mussorgsky did compile some folk material for it. No sketches survive."