Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Tchaikovsky, Dilova, Sofia Festival Orchestra|
The spooky, overwrought atmosphere of this opera about a young man driven to desperation by love and poverty is well conveyed in a performance that is, quite properly, larger than life. Wieslaw Ochman is particularly impre... more »
The spooky, overwrought atmosphere of this opera about a young man driven to desperation by love and poverty is well conveyed in a performance that is, quite properly, larger than life. Wieslaw Ochman is particularly impressive in the role of Gherman, who stakes his whole future on a card trick and loses, and the whole cast and the conductor work together well. --Joe McLellan
The best by comparison
S Duncan | London | 10/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I truly have not heard a 5-star recording of this opera. I hasten to qualify that remark by saying that I haven't heard the Freni/Atlantov/Hvorostovy/Ozawa recording. I would certainly welcome Freni's voice but I'm not sure what to expect from her Russian pronunciation. I don't necessarily look forward to Atlantov (given what I heard of him in an otherwise excellent Khovanshchina with Abbado). Hvorostovy, however (who I find peerless among Russian baritones today), I expect great things from...but only time will tell :^)
I have, however, heard the well-touted Gergiev with Giuleghina/Arkhipova/Grigoriam. Gergiev's conducting is lovely and Grigoriam is brilliant. I continually find Giuleghina off-putting because of a general unsteadiness in her voice that imparts a `flatness' to her singing. I have no grudge against Ms. Giuleghina. I merely state my sincere observations. The great Irina Arkhipova does not produce the earth-moving sounds of her formative years but certainly makes a haughty, imperious and frightening countess. And of course, Borodina as Pauline was superb! I would have wished for a better Lisa (a MAJOR issue for me), some sound effects during the haunting ghost scene (Gergiev doesn't seem to favour these) and I've always wondered why it was so difficult to use a real harpsichord during the harpsichord scene...but maybe the last one was too picky. Given the price, however, I don't feel satisfied.
I've also heard the "great" Rostropovich recording with Vishnevskaya/Resnik/Weikl. The conducting is brilliant and the ghost scene is perfectly hair-raising...a few enhancements. I'm a Resnik fan (try the Nilsson/Resnik/Solti version of Elektra if you dare!!) and her countess lived up to expectation. Having Hanna Schwartz as Pauline was a pleasant surprise....if I recall correctly, there was even a real harpsichord! Their diction was excellent but Gougaloff seemed vocally stressed by his role. Vishnevskaya, I thought, was well past it....the sounds were hard and unattractive. Here, for those who like it, was a heaving so-called `Slavonic wobble'. Alas, Lisa was another let-down.
Thirdly, I recently purchased (and returned) the live recording conducted by Fedoseyev...a conductor whom I admire. I find that I cannot objectively review the recording because of the noisy audience. Live recordings would be fine with me, barring an unobtrusive audience. Somehow, I could not countenance the VERY frequent applause and the shouts of "Bravo!" while I was trying to indulge. If this isn't an issue then you may well enjoy it.
So finally I come to this recording....and no, it isn't perfect (and by that I mean within reason...not literal perfection). It's not readily available either. Add to that its bulk (3 individual CD cases with libretto enclosed within a compressed-paper box...though the artwork on each CD cover is charming). But THIS is my favourite. Tchakarov's conducting is excellent....not the more western-leaning opulence of Gergiev. When saying so, I do treasure Gergiev's interpretation. His accompaniment for Lisa's famous aria `Uzh polnoch blisitsya' is excuisite....slower and more languorous. For Gergiev, however, Lisa was more breathless...without any edge or firmness. The effect was limp. For Tchakarov, Stefka Evstatieva has the more beautiful voice but it is arguable that Giuleghina has the superior technique. Giuleghina does slightly better with the high notes but Evstatieva sounds much more vocally secure. Here may be the turning point for you....the better tenor or the better soprano? Grigoriam for Gergiev is Ochman's clear superior but Ochman is still very good. More of a heldentenor feel to the voice, but good. However, if Pauline's mezzo role means much to you (as it does to me) then let me state that the Stefania Toczyska here is the most exquisite that I have ever heard...a truly luxurious voice with a fabulous vibrato (not wobble) and perfect diction! Penka Dilova's Countess was, as with Arkhipova, very effective (if just slightly more aesthetically pleasing).
In summary, I would say that of the 4 recordings that I've actually heard, the top 2 are the Tchakarov and the Gergiev. My personal recommendation is this one- the Tchakarov- but I have stated my preferences and dislikes. Should you differ, the Gergiev should not disappoint (it has many great attributes). Both Sony (here) and Phillips (the high-priced Gergiev) should consider more economical re-issues but this should not be an excuse to cut out the libretto please!
An integrated, absorbing interpretation
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 12/30/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have been having a bt of a blitz on "Pique Dame" lately. For years I have gone along with the received wisdom that it is demonstrably inferior to "Eugene Onegin" and while I still don't think any of Tchaikovsky's other operas matches "Onegin", better acquaintance with "Pique Dame" suggests to me that the gap between the two is less than I had imagined. While I was happy with Ozawa's conducting in the "international" concert performance recording starring Mirella Freni, Atlantov and a young Hvorostovsky (see my review), the big difference between the two recordings lies in the quality of Tchakarov's direction; he has much more feel for the passion and melancholy of this gloomy score and tempi are judged to a nicety. He makes frequent telling use of rubato but really cranks it up for the moments of high tension, hence overall there is little discrepancy in timings but it's a question, as ever, of phrasing and contrast. He also secures excellent singing and playing from his Sofia forces - but then, Ozawa has the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In one sense, a prospective buyer is spoilt for choice amongst three really good modern recordings from Ozawa, Gergiev, and this one; then there is the old (1949/50), mono, Russian classic starring the incomparable Georg Nelepp and Pavel Lisitsian, conducted by Melik-Paschayev. However, all are also to some extent compromised by some inadequacy in the cast or, in the case of the latter, antique sound. Ozawa has a weak Paulina and a strenuous, if involved, Hermann; Gergiev's Gulegina is not to all tastes and a bit unsteady; Tchakarov's Wieslaw Ochman has a voice tighter and less expansive even than that of Gergiev's Grigoriam, although Ochman has a genuine feel for Hermann's obsessive nature; no recording is perfect. Other considerations are price and libretto: the Ozawa is very cheap in the new Sony re-issue but very short on documentation, whereas the other two are expensive but exhaustively documented.
There are further variations in quality of casting: Mazurok is here a little past his best in 1988 but still preferable even to Hvorostovsky and Chernov - yet all are very fine. I agree with a previous reviewer who singles out Stefania Toczyska as a wonderful Paulina - but the same reviewer hears "Heldentenor" qualities in Ochman's pallid Hermann, and that cannot be right. Borodina is lovely in the Kirov recording, as is the great veteran Irina Arkhipova as the Countess; Penka Dilova in the Tchakarov is plain wobbly and painful - a serious flaw in a short but crucial part; Maureen Forrester is much more telling for Ozawa. You don't have to sound ugly to sound old, methinks.
So if you want a modern recording, try to listen to samples first and go with your preference, which will have to be an "on balance", compromised choice - yet none of those three recordings will disappoint overall and all present a strong case for the continued rehabilitation of a neglected opera. If pushed, I think I prefer the Tchakarov for his conducting and the sense of ensemble, which is a sacrifice for someone who usually unashamedly places quality of voice top of his list."