Rollicking Russian Rossini
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 01/03/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Gala are to be thanked for increasingly making available recordings previously rare or hard to obtain, such as those made in the post-war Golden Age of Russian singing by great artists such as Kozlovsky and Reizen. It is perhaps a pity that the Figaro here is not Pavel Lisitsian (the third member of the Russian male-voice "dream team" featuring either Lemeshev or Kozlovsky and Mark Reizen) but Ivan Burlak is more than adequate; very characterful if rather hard-voiced. Kozlovsky is as stunning, brilliant and wilful as ever, interpolating high C's and D's into the Count's arias and hanging on to them to demonstrate his superlative messa di voce - but the effect is mesmerising. I admit to buying this recording in the first place chiefly to get hold of the 12 minute filler from the "Romeo and Juliet" opera planned by Tchaikovsky but never achieved. His pupil Taneyev assembled the themes and sketches to make this fragment: a passionate love duet sung by Kozlovsky and Shumskaya, with a brief and an uncredited interpolated warning by the Nurse à la Brangäne. I heard it once on the radio while driving and had been looking for a copy ever since - and here it is as a bonus. However, the "Barber" is worth having, too, despite falling oddly in Russian on Western ears. Reizen unleashes his vast voice as Don Basilio and Vera Firsova demonstrates fluent coloratura facility as a soprano Rosina, even if, as is so often the case with Russian sopranos like her and Shumskaya, there is more than a touch of the steam whistle in her vocal production. In addition, Kozlovsky sings "Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!", from Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette", with two full voiced top B's, then a concluding falsetto top B; the only version I know to rival Björling's famous account.
The production is free and concerned to bring out the comedy; it is clear that conductor Samosud and his company are quite at home in Rossini in Russian and there is a proper sense of ensemble. The Bartolo is fuzzy-voiced and vocally weak but a good comic actor and the sound is harsh and fizzy mono, but perfectly clear. No-one except a Russian voice aficionado would buy this as his first-choice "Barber" but it provides a fascinating souvenir of the high standard of opera in Russia in the 50's. For me, the Kozlovsky fillers alone make this 2 disc set worth its bargain price - although as ever, I have to transfer the discs and slim booklet from their clunky jewel-case into a slimline 2 CD case to save space."