by | Jun 2, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Very Best of Boris Christoff = MOUSSORGSKY: Boris Gudonov
excerpts; The Nursery; Songs and Dances of Death–excerpts; Song of the
Flea; BORODIN: Prince Igor–excerpts; Two Songs; GOUNOD:
Faust–excerpts; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Song of the Viking Guest from Sadko;
Prince Yuri’s Aria from The Lengend of the Invisible City of Kitezh;
TCHAIKOVSKY: Prince Gremin’s Aria from Evgeny Onegin; Two Songs; VERDI:
Arias from Attila and Don Carlo; GLUCK: Aria from Iphigenia in Aulide;
BOITO: Prologue from Mefistofele; TRAD: Song of the Volga Boatmen;
Along the Petersky

Victorio de los Angeles, soprano/Nicolai Gedda, tenor/ Anna Alexieva,
mezzo-soprano/Alexandre Labinsky, piano /Conductors: Andre Cluytens;
Issay Dobrowen; Nicolai Malko; Jerzy Semkow; Wilhelm Schuechter;
Georges Tzipine /French National Radio Orchestra; Paris Conservatory
Orchestra; Lamoureux Concerts Orchestra; Philharmonia Orchestra of
EMI Classics 5 86335 2 (2 discs)  78:42; 76:43 ****:

The art of basso Boris Christoff (1914-1993) is sumptuously documented
in this 2 CD set, approximating the sheer breadth of Christoff’s career
and his stature as a formidable actor-singer in the roles he made his
own. Obviously, Christoff’s dominance in Russian opera, particularly in
Moussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov, the 1962 recording of which we hear
excerpts with an aroused Andre Cluytens‚ sounding the splendors of the
Coronation Scene, as well as the psychological gloom of Boris’
Monologue, Clock Scene, Farewell, and Death. Christoff’s powerful laugh
is worth the price of admission alone: I had already been impressed
with Varlaam’s drinking aria in the 1952 recording with Issay Dobrowen
from 1952 (Naxos 8.110242).  Christoff also projects Pimen’s
Narrative with authority. While we can hear Christoff’s debts to
Chaliapin in Song of the Flea (with aforementioned Issay Dobrowen) and
the traditional Volga Boatmen, there is a tender sympathy in his
rendition of Moussorgsky’s Nursery, the song-cycle Christoff inscribed
with Alexandre Labinsky in 1958, his accompanist for a well-respected
EMI disc devoted to songs of Glinka. The Borodin and Tchaikovsky
combination of arias and songs is alternately energetic and wistful, as
only the sentimental side of the Russian soul can be.

It was in Italian opera (La Boheme) that Christoff made his debut in
1946; and he made his last appearance in Verdi’s Attila in 1983. His
capacity for dramatic, emotional juxtapositions of command and remorse
prove idiomatic to his Agamemnon characterization in Gluck’s Iphigenia.
The two Mephistopheles portraits (by Gounod, Boito) have a wry humor
and broad projection, an earthiness and restrained voluptuousness in
their irreverence. Victoria de los Angeles is the innocent Marguerite,
trying to pray in the face of a taunting devil. The Don Carlo excerpt
recounts Philip II’s agonized litany of his unhappy marriage and the
drying up of his affections. For the (1949) Boito excerpt, Christoff
has the capable help of Nicolai Malko, an under-rated master of the
operatic and symphonic idioms, whose sensitivity to shifts of color
matches his singers’. What makes this set special is the esprit that
permeates every bar of music – a magnanimity in sharing powerful
vocalization and florid technique with coloratura vocal writing. This
was a great basso and his collaborating artists, each thoroughly
engaged in the best of Russian, French, and Italian repertory.

–Gary Lemco

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