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Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
Modest Mussorgsky, Herbert von Karajan, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (13) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (13) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #3

Mussorgsky was never quite satisfied with his epic opera about a man who has waded through blood to reach the throne of Russia and then is haunted--ultimately to death--by the memory of his crimes. He revised Boris several...  more »


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Mussorgsky was never quite satisfied with his epic opera about a man who has waded through blood to reach the throne of Russia and then is haunted--ultimately to death--by the memory of his crimes. He revised Boris several times and died leaving it still in need of further work. This was supplied by his friend Rimsky-Korsakov, who unfortunately revised some of the primitive strength out of the music, confronting anyone who wants to record Boris with some hard decisions. Mstislav Rostropovich follows Mussorgsky's original score, using more than one draft and letting the listener choose between alternate treatments of some key moments. His cast is carefully chosen and matches his own energy and dedication in a very powerful performance. --Joe McLellan

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CD Reviews

The only substitute
tenor_in_training | 06/21/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This D'Oro release is the only substitute for the once-available Decca release under Herbert von Karajan. Von Karajan uses the more popular Rimsky-Korsakov version of Mussorgsky's unfinished masterpiece whereas Rostropovich uses Shostakovich's version, which, perhaps, is closer to Mussorgsky's vision and Gergiev gave us original score and Rimsky-Korsakov's revision for contrast.Rimsky-Korsakov is known for his brilliant orchestral showpieces so there is no wonder that he left his mark on the score in such way that it became less "rough" and way more refined and even "glossy" so to speak. Von Karajan, of course, is the master of refinement so his style suits this version the best. Those of us fortunate enough to have Decca release need not bother with any other rendition of Rimsky's version, that was as close to brilliant as it gets. In addition to spectacular Nicolai Ghiaurov - THE Boris of our time, it featured the great Galina Vishnevskaya as Marina. That combination was and still is unmatched on record, no matter what version you choose to listen to. The main reason for purchasing the D'Oro set is, again, Nicolai Ghiaurov. I admit, I am a huge fan of his and, like Carsten from Denmark (below), am completely "under a spell" of Ghiaurov's incredible talent. Captured here in his prime he shows what can be made of relatively smallish role of Russian Tsar. Being a Russian myself, I've always admired great accounts from Chaliapin, Reizen, Kipnis, Petrov, and Kotcherga. And, of course, I've enjoyed a very involved rendition of Boris Christoff. Rostropovich utilized Ruggero Raimondi's lighter but agile basso cantabile to its full advantage (and he, like Karajan, has Galina Vishnevskaya as Marina). Yet none of these basso masters handle this demanding part like Ghiaurov. While blessed with thunderous voice, he never comes out vulgar or insincere; he makes it his prime objective to bring out the tender vulnerable side of Boris, the Macbeth-like anti-hero. Many interpreters choose to go over the top, particularly in the famous Clock Scene, they scream and puff with intent to show the terror that consumes Tsar Boris as he sees the ghost of murdered Tsarevich Dmitri. Ghiaurov, however, is a lot more subtle, but real, not forced, terror and remorse permeate his every phrase. At the same time, he is regal and even sinister when he talks with deceiving Shuisky or addressing the people. Incidentally, this is the only opera where the people as a unit (i.e. chorus) are one of the main characters; the chorus work is complex and very well done here. The supporting roles are well cast but, naturally, can't stand the comparison to Decca or to Sony, Erato, and Philips sets for that matter. The last great Simpleton was Ivan Kozlovsky. After him, nobody could make the voice of the simpleton the voice of Russia. Same goes for False Dmitri; Zednik and Spiess came close, but their voices are not pretty enough for the duet. Why hasn't anyone cast Zurab Sotkilava? The role of Pimen is crucially important, it is he who started the whole revolt, in a way. He has two great narratives, and this role, therefore, requires a basso with the authoritative voice and delivery. Once again, Decca scores the win - it has Martti Talvela, a (very solid Boris himself). No other set has Pimen like that. The overall sound is not good. It's noisy and there are many coughs. Still, since Decca set is out of print, this is a must have, particularly for serious collectors. Those looking for good sound and great value need to check out Gergiev's 5D release."
Be careful
Carsten Stampe Jorgensen | 01/20/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)

"The music is predictably gorgeous, but the quality of recording is very poor. The sound fades in and out as the characters move around the stage, and is fuzzy in the extreme registers. Don't think you are getting a bargain."
A collectors item
Carsten Stampe Jorgensen | Copenhagen, Denmark | 06/03/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Let's not keep it a secret, the sound is indeed not the reason for buying this set. What it does offer, however, is the magnificient Nicolai Ghiaurov in a live performance of the tormented Tsar Boris. I do feel that his interpretation has deepened and is more complete in the Decca set, but still, this set has many spine-chilling moments. In the Decca set he never attempts unnecessary histrionics, but relies fully on the vastness, tone colour and expressiveness of his voice. In this performance dating from 1966, he does not avoid histrionics, but it seldom becomes obtrusive and over the top, as it sometimes did with both Chaliapin and Christoff (in my opionion). The supporting cast assembled for the Decca set must also be considered an improvement on the cast presented here. But still, Ghiaurovs rendering of the title role and Karajans strong conducting makes this an attractive issue. Despite the poor sound I can recommend it, but only as a supplement to the superior Decca performance."