The première recording of Mussorgsky's rarely-heard opera
First of only four known recordings - new XR-remastered transfer
CD, MP3 and FLAC information:
CDs: Double set - CD1 = Acts 1 & 2, CD2 = Act 3; Night on the Bare Mountain; Polovstian Dances
FLACs: Continuous tracks with a short pause between acts.
MP3: Two MP3s in a Zip filed which correspond to the two CDs as outlined above, complete with individual cue sheets
Please check our help section for help with FLAC, MP3, Cue and Zip files. Downloads also include PDF files with printable covers and JPG files with front cover artwork, which is also embedded into individual music files. A score of Sorochynsti Fair is included with all downloads.
"Whenever one comes up against a Russian stage work, the first thing is to establish who composed it ; for it often seems as if the main occupation of Russian musicians is writing each other's operas-after which everyone quarrels and claims it would be better another way. The habit of leaving works incomplete—whether through illness, loss of interest or plain indolence—seems to have been endemic among the famous nineteenth - century Russians ; so that it should come as no particular surprise to learn, from an admirably comprehensive accompanying note by Paul Lamm, that Mussorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair has had to be orchestrated and completed by Liadov, Karatygin, Cui, Tcherepnin and, finally, Shebalin, whose version is the one here employed.
The story—a grotesque one, full of digressions and typically Russian muddles-is set in the Ukraine, whose national musical characteristics are mirrored in the score. Some form of lifeline, either the complete libretto (available for an extra 7s. 6d.), or the detailed account of the plot in the booklet issued with the discs, is absolutely imperative if anything whatever is to be made of this work. For, though the lyrical passages are easy enough to bang on to, the - music of the broad humorous parts is scrappy to a degree ; and it must be admitted that, attractive as are some of the melodies, their treatment is frequently very crude and thin. Only two sections are likely to be known to most people—the final Gopak and the Night on the Bare Mountain, which reappears here in a choral version to accompany the scene of Gritzko's nightmare.
The piece is played with gusto by the Ljubljana company, and the sheer high spirits they bring to it are infectious, even while one recognises the shortcomings in the performance. The orchestra is enthusiastic rather than polished, and the chorus very rough indeed, but the soloists are, many of them, of a high calibre. At the top of the list I would put Mme Stritar as the discontented scold and the tenor Shtrukel, who proves himself a first-rate character comedian, in the part of her gluttonous paramour. Their comic lovescene in Act 2 is a joy. The Parassia—a small part—is good, and the Gritzko has a suitably young-sounding ringing tenor. The Cherevik is too often careless about the exact pitching of his notes.
The recording has been made as if from a concert performance, with little suggestion of stage perspective or dramatic placing of the voices, and one cannot help regretting that for so unfamiliar a work (which, so far as I can recollect, has not been seen in this country since Jay Pomeroy's production at the Cambridge 'Theatre in the early days of the war) more attention was not given to production ". Those with perfect pitch must also steel themselves to transposing the recording down a semitone mentally. Still, as a curiosity, this recording is well worth hearing." - Gramophone review, November 1957
This is the second of two rare Russian opera recordings by the Slovenian National Opera which came my way from the collection of the former art director of Philips UK. It was sold as a boxed set of two LPs; in this case I was working from white-label test pressings for these transfers and had no notes or indication of where anything started or finished.
This lack of information turned out to be one of the greatest challenges, and it took a while to track down an alternative copy of the recording which I could both download as a reference and use to work out where the acts began and ended! Thus the tracks here are more or less split using the template of a mid-1990s recording by Yevgeni Brazhnik, and I've had to do what I can with the badly-translated Russian titles provided with that release, the most recent of only four complete recordings of this opera.
As the Gramophone reviewer points out, the version heard here is that completed by Shebalin in 1931, which is fortunately also used by all the other recordings to date. Unfortunately the score I tracked down, and which is included in the downloads, is an earlier version completed by Cui in 1917, which diverges from the recording in a number of places, not least the entire relocation of the Dream section to the third act.
This Dream music had been adapted by Mussorgsky from his earlier composition, Night on the Bare (or Bald) Mountain. Ironically the version we know now of that piece is one which Rimsky-Korsakov adapted from Sorochyntsi Fair! As I had space left over I took the opportunity to add Willem van Otterloo's 1958 recording of this, together with the flip side (Borodin's Polovtsian Dances) to the second disc of this set for comparison.
As far as the recording quality goes, both recordings were very well made. A side effect of the non-staged style of the opera as noted by Gramophone's 1957 reviewer is that all the words are exceptionally clear and well captured and nobody singing away from the microphones - as I've failed to find a libretto and the score is in Russian script, this may prove handy to the listener! What was less welcome in Sorochyntsi Fair is the prevelance of pre- and post-echo throughout the recording, something which took a great deal of time and effort to eliminate.
Overall, however, both recordings here have come up very nicely indeed, and are excellent examples of the progress made in sound quality during the 1950s. XR remastering has helped bring them forward a decade or two, and I recommend the Ambient Stereo issues.
Technical notes by Andrew Rose