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Shchedrin: The Left-Hander - Gergiev

Shchedrin: The Left-Hander - Gergiev

Mariinsky  MAR0554 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Shchedrin: The Left-Hander

Andrei Popov, The Left-Hander
Edward Tsanga, Alexander Platov
Vladimir Moroz, Alexander I/Nicholas I
Kristina Alieva, The Flea
Maria Maksakova, Princess Charlotte
Andrei Spekhov, English Under-Skipper
Mikhail Latyshev, Lord of the Treasury
Vladimir Zhivopistsev, Lord of the Treasury
Dmitry Koleushko, Lord of the Treasury
Roman Lyulkin, District Official (St Petersburg)
Vyacheslav Lukhanin, District Official (St Petersburg)
Anton Perminov, District Official (St Petersburg)
Yekaterina Goncharova, Speaking Woman
Varvara Solovyova, Speaking Woman
Alexander Timchenko, Count Kiselvrode
Alexander Gerasimov, Special Courier (England)
Marina Aleshonkova, English Bride
Yekaterina Krapivina, English Bride
Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus
Valery Gergiev


Specially written for Gergiev on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Rodion Shchedrin’s The Left-Hander is a comedy of Russians and Englishmen, new technology, old traditions, and strong drink. The premiere was given by the Mariinsky Opera in St Petersburg in July 2013.

Rodion Shchedrin is one of music’s greatest living humourists, and his work is laced with pitch-black irony and deadpan wit. Based on Nikolai Leskov’s classical satirical novella of 1881, The Tale of Cross-Eyed Lefty From Tula and the Steel Flea, The Left-Hander is a gloriously wry exploration of Russia’s relationship with the West in general and England in particular.

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Review by Graham Williams - March 16, 2015

Rodion Shchedrin's latest opera the 'Left-Hander' is based on a novella by the Russian author Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895) entitled ' The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea'. This author is a favourite of Shchedrin who has already composed three operas based on Leskov's writing, one of which, 'The Enchanted Wanderer', received a fine recording on SACD five years ago Shchedrin: The Enchanted Wanderer - Gergiev. Leskov is, however, perhaps most well known for writing 'Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District' a novel that inspired Shostakovich's notorious opera of the same name.

The story centres around a tiny mechanical steel flea presented to Tsar Alexander I by Princess Charlotte, daughter of George III, during a visit to London which provokes ridiculous rivalry between the English and Russian Courts as to which country has the finer craftsmen. The Russians enlist the help of a simple, illiterate artisan – the Left-Hander – who by fitting tiny shoes to the flea proves the superiority of Russian craftsmanship. For his pains he is eventually left to die alone in an infirmary for common people. Below the surface of this satirical tale Shchedrin sees the comic contrast between both the rational British and the irrational Russians as well as the character of 'Lefty' encapsulating the Russian national characteristics that include the ability to laugh at oneself and a disastrous love of alcohol.

'The Left-hander' received its première in June 2013 at the new Mariinsky II theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia and is dedicated to the conductor Valery Gergiev on his sixtieth birthday. Gergiev has long been a champion of Shchedrin's music and the performance recorded on these two SACDs conducted by Gergiev would appear to be that of the staged premier (27-28 July 2013), although nowhere is that stated in the booklet accompanying the set. Nor is there any indication that this is a live performance – something that becomes all too obvious from both the stage noises and sporadic audience applause. One rather unwelcome feature of the recording is the decision to leave a full five minutes of rapturous applause and bravos at the end of the work rather than allot it to a separate track.

The large cast is a fine one led by tenor Andrei Popov who sings the taxing title role of the Left-Hander with great conviction whilst the Flea of coloratura soprano Kristina Alieva is both alluring and touching.

Listening to this opera it quickly becomes clear that it really does require a visual dimension to bring its comic aspects fully to life. But though Shchedrin's vocal writing is often declamatory and at times melodically sparse, there are also passages of great beauty. Most of the musical interest is found through the composer's brilliant use of a large and imaginative orchestral pallet– something that Gergiev and his superb orchestra relish to the full in the work's six orchestral interludes. Most of the best music is in the first Act including a witty and very un-Wagnerian 'forging scene' complete with anvils ( Disc 1 tr. 13). Shchedrin's inspiration seems to evaporate to some extent in the second Act, which I found dragged. Ennui, however, vanishes in the opera's moving final scenes set in the infirmary thanks to the ravishing singing from the excellent Mariinsky chorus.

Glimpses of what looks like a most entertaining Mariinsky stage production can be viewed at http://mariinsky.tv/n/650-en.

The opera was recorded by Vladimir Ryabenko in (24 bit/ 48kHz PCM) who produced, engineered, edited, mixed and mastered this production that includes 5.0 multichannel and stereo mixes. The sound is vivid with plenty of ambient information from the surround speakers and it accurately captures the atmosphere of the live event.

The two discs come attractively packaged in a slipcase with a booklet that includes the full libretto (Cyrillic/English) and colour photographs of the production.

Admirers of Shchedrin's music need not hesitate.

Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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