Monday, 10 October 2011
No question about the top choice in Radio 3's Building a Library this time - and don't read on if you still have to hear it on the BBC iPlayer - which, if you live in the UK only, I'm told, applies for the next five days - and don't want to know the outcome. We're not allowed to say 'winner', and usually I end with two or three versions with which I'd be equally happy for different reasons. But tenor Georgi Nelepp (pictured above) would be enough to stake out the 1952 recording of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades as easily the best.
His sensitivity, even production, characterisation and fabulous diction leave Atlantov - a more heldentenory Hermann on no less than three recordings, if you like that sort of thing, which I did at the end of the first scene and throughout the last - Grigorian (for Gergiev) and the rather interesting Peter Gougaloff (for Rostropovich) way behind. Grigorian, by the way, wore a powdered wig like the one Nelepp sports below in the very traditional Mariinsky Queen of Spades I saw in St. Petersburg, but was allowed to take it off, I seem to remember, for the filming, as it had turned him rather into the Frog Footman of Lewis Carroll's Duchess.
Decisive in the choice, though, was Melik-Pashayev's conducting: incredibly nuanced, getting superb articulation from the Bolshoi Orchestra and pacing unerringly. For once, the Pastoral of the Faithful Shepherdess that falls like a true 18th century intermezzo halfway through the opera doesn't outstay its welcome. Other recordings may have even better Tomskys and Yeletskys (Leiferkus and Hvorostovsky for Ozawa), but none comes close overall.
If you want the classic, you'll have to buy the 60-CD Tchaikovsky Edition, but it's to be found, I'm told, in some places for less than a pound a disc. There are other operatic rarities - The Oprichnik, The Maid of Orleans, The Slippers and The Enchantress are all here - though inevitably the performances are variable. I've just been listening to the Ansermet versions of the ballets which, though often cut, have such esprit.
Briefly, then, more Russian stuff this week. Tonight I interview the Pacifica Quartet (pictured above by Anthony Parmelee) in a Wigmore pre-performance event before the launch of their Shostakovich cycle; and next Saturday I plague the airwaves again, talking to Andrew McGregor about Weinberg's The Passenger before a Radio 3 relay of the Bregenz premiere. But the highlight of the week is somehow bound to be the two-concert appearance at the Festival Hall of the world's greatest living conductor, Claudio Abbado, with the world's greatest players, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.