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Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame, opus 68
Vitaly Taraschhchenko (Herman), Natalia Datsko (Lisa), Irina Arkhipova (Countess), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Prince Yeletsky), Nina Romanova (Pauline, Milovzor), Grigory Gritsyuk (Count Tomsky, Zlatogor), Yurlov Republican Academic Choral Capella, Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor)
Live recording: Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory (December 25, 1989) – 161’12
Melodiya 10 02549 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in Russian and English

Christmas Day back in 1989 was particularly noteworthy when eminent Vladimir Fedoseyev raised the baton to enact one of the most penetrating discourses of Pique Dame. Moscow Conservatory’s Grand Hall acts as the backdrop in this concert staging, and it’s the first time this recording has been released on the Melodiya label.

The cadre of singers rests fashionably on a world class level, yet the biggest buzz centers about debuting Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Prince Yeletsky…a role that was critical in building the Siberian’s career that began back in 1985 at the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. Known for imposing Verdi and Tchaikovsky translations, M. Hvorostosky’s rendition of “Yeletsky’s Aria” has superb mellowness, palpitating in passion and unfathomable tenderness, alongside grave sincerity. Natalia Datsko has a crystalline piercing winding her way through Lisa’s many moments of immaculate reasoning. Her “Arioso” (ref: N° 20) is one of the best vocal depictions on this CD. Underscoring the small part of Surin, Alexander Dyachenko adds an impressively silky bass heft when heading to the gambling table with his cohorts, Chaplitsky (Vladimir Grishko) and Checkalinsky (Alexander Dyachenko.)

When stacked up against Sergei Leiferkus, Grigory Gritsyuk’s Count Tomsky has a smoother translation and a very romantic bite. “Tomsky’s Song” (ref: N° 23) is trimmed by a firm and steady baritone content. Key to the morbid plot development, Irina Arkhipova has a matronly command as the countess and her encounter with Herman (Vitaly Taraschchenko) whirlpools the listener into a mesmerizing state.

Tchaikovsky’s music, set upon Pushkin’s short story, has an enthralling vibrancy, disjuncts between sévérité russe and Mozartian rococo robustness. This is why Pique Dame is such a blockbuster opera. A few summary points indexed below are worth citation.

1) Act III, Scene 5 and 6 (N° s 18-21): Moves with a very impressionable pace, anxious and riveting. Of special value are the creepy sound effects emanating from the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra’s oboe and bass clarinet. Fabulous execution by Mlle. Datsko and M. Taraschchenko.
2) Act II’s “Chorus of Shepherds and Shepherdesses” (N° s 14-15): Choral blending mobilizes on all fronts along with the lovely extractions by Zlatogor, Prilepa and Milovzor (Grigory Gritsyuk, Lidia Chernykh and Nina Romanova, respectively) in an effective affected parlance.
3) Act I’s “Tomsky’s Ballad” (N° 5): Sublime!
4) Act I, Scene 1 (N° 6): Herman’s charismatic statement demonstrates how pliable M. Taraschchenko’s tenor voice can penetrate through Tchaikovsky’s score, with a final “B” note ending the scene. His voice is a castle of strength.
5) Act I, Scene 1 (N° s 1 and 3): The children’s chorus is disciplined in an almost quasi-militaristic articulation…superb and adroitly formulated.
6) Act III, Scene 7 (N° s 22-24): Poised with caffeine-driven energy that moves forward with such madness and operatic excitement.

Matchless in pure beauty...horror...strength. While the remastering and sound engineering hold up remarkably well, the live recording has its own set of disappointments: applause ensues especially when Tchaikovsky is engaged in full throttle of a dramatic conclusion. This musical nettle detracts from an, otherwise, impeccable execution.

Christie Grimstad




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