Understand that the intended audience was apathetic college students. The two greatest difficulties were A) abstaining from 'technical' language, and B) deciding how much space to give to each track (and whether to leave any out). I eventually opted for a great deal of subjective language and addressed each track individually, though often briefly. Since it is my first review, I do not feel terribly ashamed. And David Hurwitz has offered to "rip [my reviews] to shreds," so I hope that I shall improve.
Published 12/04/07 in the Elmhurst College Leader.
Album: Russian Opera Arias & Songs
Artist(s): Boris Christoff, et al.
As with his complete recordings of the opera, Christoff sings all three bass roles from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. While the intimidating authority of his voice is perhaps better suited to the character of the Tsar, the other roles are admirably done. Pimen’s act I monologue, though lacking humility, is imbued with sufficient reverence to portray the priest. In contrast, the dark gusto put into “Varlaam’s Drinking Song” about the slaughter at
The other Mussorgsky cuts are fine as well. “Dositheus’s Aria” from Khovaschina has the religiosity which was lacking in the Pimen monologue; “The Flea” has just the right balance between humor and the diabolical (one must remember that the singer takes on the role of Mephistopheles). The two songs accompanied by Gerald Moore (“The Field Marshall” and “The Spirit of Heaven”) aptly demonstrate his comfort in the genre of art song.
The various arias of other composers show off Christoff’s ability to effortlessly change character. “Prince Galitsky’s aria” from Borodin’s Prince Igor sounds genuinely carefree. “The Song of the Viking Guest” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko is suitably majestic (though I might prefer an even larger voice singing it), with the orchestra’s dark, weighty sound vividly painting a backdrop of the high seas. Christoff’s performance of “Prince Gremin’s Aria” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is very tender and is easily the loveliest version I have heard of it—the sense of a mature man of the world rediscovering youthful love is touchingly evident.
It’s worth noting that many of the arias and songs on this disc are in direct competition with recordings by Chaliapin (the Mussorgsky in particular), and, while Christoff has the advantage of later, better sound, aficionados might still prefer Chaliapin’s versions. However, in many cases, Christoff’s renditions surpass those by the Russian master, and the “Song of the Volga Boatmen” is a case in point. While Chaliapin’s recordings are indispensable, I would never be without Christoff’s performance. Christoff invests the traditional Russian song with a near “operatic” sense of drama—heavy, angry, powerful, full of dynamic contrast, gradually building to a furious climax which is sung in such an unapologetic and over-the-top manner that one cannot help but be swept away by his performance. “The Siberian Prisoner’s Song” is perhaps even more dramatic—after hearing it, Christoff’s artistic sensitivity may never be doubted. It is a truly beautiful interpretation, demonstrating the range of colors in Christoff’s voice (including his ravishing mezza voce), as well as his complete emotional investment into the tragic content of the text.
In all, this is a magnificent album. Entirely worthy of the Great Recordings of the Century moniker, and at this price ($8-$14 on Amazon.com), it’s a steal, too. If you have never heard Christoff in this repertoire, you need to. Get it.