Search - Dimitri Shostakovich, Myung-Whun Chung, Bastille Orchestra :: Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk

Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk
Dimitri Shostakovich, Myung-Whun Chung, Bastille Orchestra
Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (13) - Disc #2


Larger Image

CD Details


CD Reviews

A fine, dramatic reading in great sound
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I don't know Russian, so I can't judge what might be wrong with Ewing's performance in the lead role, but to my ears this whole production is excellent: the conducting catches the gritty, pointed mood of Shostakovich's writing and the slooists come off dramatically as convincing and committed. I don't love Lady Macbeth, but comparing this version side by side with the acclaimed Rostropovich on EMI, I plumped for the DG."
Still problematic: some very good parts, but Ewing's scoopi
Alexander Z. Damyanovich | Flesherton, Ontario, Canada | 06/03/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This time I'll start with the best aspects first: the orchestra is very good indeed (particular kudos go to the strings, especially when the section-leaders including the concertmaster have their solos), and Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft's recording is impeccable, allowing better detail than EMI's recording of this work - although some balances are skewed in a few strange ways: the winds (particularly the woodwinds) don't always get to be properly heard (could that be due to the venue of the recording - the new Bastille Opera Theatre of Paris? - or is Chung so extreme with some things as to have some instruments sound excessively distant?). [Another good thing to mention in favour of this recording is that it includes a passage sung by the tenor playing the part of Sjergjéy (quite unaccompanied) immediately after the sex-scene that both Rostropóvich and Gjórgijev, alas, happen to cut (did Shostakóvich possibly change his mind over it, agreeing for once with the Communist censors?).]

When I ordered this recording, it was with the desire to see what somebody other than Rostropóvich (whose recording with his wife Vishñévskaja in the title rôle of Katjerína Ljvóvna Izmáylova remains the standard out and away!) could do with this piece. Well, it's certainly different, but just as often than not it's NOT for the better! Some people speak of it as more sensuous as opposed to Rostropóvich's "more dramatic" reading. While that may have been Chung's intention (though enough times the dry approach he has his orchestra take vitiates that aspect in this writer's opinion), it's utterly undone by Maria Ewing! Were it not for her and Aage Haugland's performances (though all the singers are guilty in this regard!), this kind of treatment could well have had better results (though even that's questionable given Chung's taste for frequent understatement of various bits throughout the score)!!

I repeat: Maria Ewing treats this piece too much from the viewpoint of what might be a sort of cabaret-technique, with swoops, glissandi and other things used to such excess as to become totally abusive to the score as well as tasteless! Whether it was Chung's or her idea - or both - it ends up utterly violating the basic approach of practically ALL opera-singing (or all classical singing, period!): that no matter how difficult a rôle may be (or how verismic it be), that its mastery requires beautiful sounds for the most part from the voice singing it. [And it's NOT like she's incapable of clean singing - there are some fine places with her doing as much too!] While sometimes an ugly sound may be appropriate, most surely it should be by far the EXCEPTION rather than the rule - and Ewing stands that rule up so totally on its head as to become quite repellent to this writer!!! [Vishñévskaja's classy approach compared to Ewing's whinings, scoops, screeches et al is like day versus night!!!! It's at times almost as if Ewing doesn't LIKE the part and is doing everything to turn the listener off of it and make her character as repugnant as possible!] Regardless also of where or when the orchestra should be dominant: the singer should NEVER be so minimising his/her part as to be almost deliberately inaudible to such an extent! Aage Haugland as Borís Timofjéjevich Izmáylov, Katjerína's lecherous, brutal father-in-law (who sings the rôle of the Police-Sergeant for Rostropóvich), does the same thing, though not to such an extreme. As to the other singers, their contributions are more tolerable; however, all too many of them suffer from lots of pitch violations whereby they're speaking or even Sprechstimme-ing their parts much more than they should!!!

As to Chung's conducting, it's variable: excellent parts are the Passacaglia (here the sensuousness comes off beautifully!) and other places where the strings have more of beauty allowed to them, even taking over from the brass, even perhaps to excess at times (I miss the wallop Rostropóvich packs in that regard!); however, when he aims for a dryness of and/or understatement of accompaniment, it kills any idea of voluptuousness whatsoever (in that regard Rostropóvich, by being more consistent, wins far more even in this aim in spite of it not likely being a primary goal of his).

Ultimately, this recording (its decibel level is surprisingly low overall, requiring one to turn up the volume more than usually is the case), while most certainly worthy of attention and of being a 2nd recording of this epochal opera in a listener's library, CANNOT be more than that; hence its 3-star rating (or 3.5 at the most). Rostropóvich's reading (even if some orchestral detail gets slushed over by EMI's approach where the voices have to always dominate the accompaniment - with which I disagree most strongly {where's John Culshaw when we need him?!?!!}!) still remains tops - and if a buyer can only get 1 recording of this work, I recommend Rostropóvich in the strongest possible terms!

POSTSCRIPT: I've increased the rating to FOUR stars (consequently being forced to delete and re-post this review!) after having gotten to know the recording some more: Chung has to be commended for being somewhat more scrupulous in sticking with the original score's manuscript compared even to Rostropóvich. The items in question are minor but there nonetheless, so for that reason I can look more kindly on this performance. It's my hope that it will be re-issued in any case: having something to compare to is always welcome!"
A Magnificent Performance
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 04/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"With all of the controversy shrouding the original version of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk anyone who is interested in the music of Shostakovich should get to know the opera that caused him so much difficulty. I have been listening to this recording of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk conducted by the Myung-Whun Chung for several years and found it to be a superlative effort. The Chung recording is usually compared to the earlier one of the original opera conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, which cast his wife Galina Vishnevskaya as Kataria. Both recordings are excellent and I like to think of the Chung recording as a successor to the Rostropovich. In fact, Aage Hauglaund was the Sergeant in the Rostropovich and has moved up to Boris in this recording.

Maria Ewing may not fill the character of Katerina as well as Vishneskaya but she does an admirable job; she is very expressive in the role but does not cut the same tragic figure. To fully appreciate Ms. Ewing's performance one would need to see her on stage. Sergei Larin is perfectly cast as the good-for-nothing Sergei and Aage Hauglaund is a magnificent Boris as he bullies Katerina. The supporting cast is as distinguished as the leading members. Elena Zaremba is a standout Sonyetka playing her roll as Sergei's new conquest to the hilt and Kurt Moll brings a world-weary fell to his roll of the Old Convict setting the stage for the tragic third act. Philip Langridge is an excellent if short-lived Zinovi.

Myung-Whun Chung does an excellent job bring the opera to life. The Bastille orchestra plays with energy and commitment; the recording is nicely balanced. There is much to like in this performance of Lady Macbeth and one should not judge it harshly comparing it to the more "authoritative" Rostropovich recording.