Shchedrin: The Enchanted Wanderer - Gergiev
Mariinsky MAR0504 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Shchedrin: The Enchanted Wanderer, Little Humpbacked Horse, Naughty Limericks
Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus
Valery Gergiev (conductor)
Rodion Shchedrin's 'concert opera' The Enchanted Wanderer premiered in New York in 2002 but did not receive its Russian premiere until 2007. However, it has rapidly entered the Mariinsky Theatre's repertory, often performed in St Petersburg and on tour.
Based on a story by the 19th-century Russian author Nikolai Leskov, the opera is steeped in Russian folklore and beliefs. It tells the fantastical story of Ivan, a young man who, in the course of his travels, flogs a monk to death, is captured and tortured by the Tatars, joins a prince's retinue as horse trainer, loves and loses (to said prince) a Gypsy woman whom he subsequently kills at her own request, and is ultimately led by her ghost to a monastery, where he takes holy orders to atone for his deeds.
The release also features four fragments from Shchedrin's 1955 ballet score The Little Humbacked Horse and his 1963 Concerto for Orchestra, Naughty Limericks.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 27, 2010
Yet another marvellous issue from the Mariinsky label of what is surely a definitive performance of the main work, recorded in superb SACD sound!
Rodion Shchedrin’s opera ‘The Enchanted Wanderer’ was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and given its first performance at the Avery Fisher Hall in December 2002. The work is dedicated to Lorin Maazel who also conducted the premiere. Shchedrin, at 78 years old, is regarded as one of the leading generation of Russian composers that followed on from Shostakovich and Prokofiev. His music throughout his long career has encompassed a wide range of styles but, based on what I have previously heard of it, is always imaginative and most definitely accessible.
Taken from a story by the 19th-century Russian author Nikolai Leskov, (also the source of Shostakovich's ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’) this work is steeped in Russian folklore and mysticism. It tells the story of Ivan Severyanovich Flyagin, a young man who, in the course of his wanderings, flogged a monk to death, before being captured and tortured by the Tatars and eventually joining a prince’s retinue as a horse trainer. He then fell in love with Grusha, a gypsy woman, whom he lost to the prince and later killed at her own request. Ultimately her ghost leads Ivan to a monastery on Valaam Island, where he takes holy orders to atone for his evil deeds.
Such a lurid tale might have been expected to produce an epic opera full of action and drama, but characteristically this is not the way Shchedrin has chosen to handle it. Instead he has written ‘an opera for the concert stage’ that distils the narrative into an almost dream-like sequence in which the story’s events are condensed into an unbroken series of 16 sections that includes three orchestral interludes and an orchestral postlude. The opera requires a mixed chorus, three vocal soloists who between them sing the six character roles as well as acting as storytellers, and a modest orchestra that does, however, include a fairly exotic percussion section.
When he commissioned the work, Maazel told the composer that he had in mind “ something Russian, with ancient chants, the clangour of bells, Polovtsians, Gypsies and a deep resounding voice”. Shchedrin has, in most respects, obliged with this request. The opera opens and closes with the gentle sounds of bells that together with the intoning of the chorus at once evoke the atmosphere of the Russian Orthodox Church and its sacred music. This sense of rapt spirituality pervades the whole 89 minutes of its duration.
Each of the three singers on this recording is outstanding in their graphic communication of the text of Shchedrin’s own libretto. Sergei Alekshashkin (bass) as the opera’s main protagonist sings throughout with great nobility and power. The tenor Evgeny Akimov is equally convincing in his four roles and copes admirably with the often cruelly high tessitura of the vocal writing. Perhaps the finest performance of all comes from the mezzo Kristina Kapustinskaya in the role of Grusha the Gypsy. Her dramatic, yet poised, singing of the long scene that concludes the first disc is compelling in its hypnotic intensity. The Mariinsky Chorus, who contribute to almost every scene, is on superb form and Gergiev elicits terrific orchestral playing, particularly in such thrilling sections as the ‘Tartar Captivity’. Though the opera has been staged (as witnessed by the photographs in the accompanying booklet of the Mariinsky production) its generally slow-moving, even static, nature makes this vivid and atmospheric recording the best way to appreciate its qualities.
There could hardly be a greater contrast between this austere and sombre opera and the two works that fill up the second disc of this set. First comes a delightful suite, here described as ‘Four fragments’, from Shchedrin’s first ballet ‘The Little Humpbacked Horse’. Written in 1955, the music is engagingly tuneful and quite reminiscent of the Stravinsky of ‘Petrushka’ in the lively dances, while the later ballets of Prokofiev or Glière come to mind in the lyrical sections. Finally we have ‘Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 (Ozornïye chastushki)’ a jazzy, impudent, eight-and-a-half minute virtuoso orchestral extravaganza that shows off Shchedrin’s brilliant handling of the orchestra. Usually translated as “Naughty Limericks” this humorous piece uses the style of the chastushka, a form of irreverent or satirical folk song, translated into orchestral terms. Gegiev and the Mariinsky orchestra’s idiomatic performances capture the spirit of both works with invigorating playing, style and wit.
The recording was made in the Mariinsky Concert Hall in July 2008, and the experienced team of James Mallinson (producer), John Newton and Dirk Sobotka (recording engineers) have achieved a spacious sound quality with plenty of front-to-back perspective and great presence. The two discs are handsomely presented in a slipcase that also contains Leonid Gakkel’s informative notes and a libretto in Cyrillic and English.
If this repertoire appeals to you, don’t hesitate to investigate this wonderful set. Definitely recommended.
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