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CD Review

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff

May Night

  • Vitaly Taraschenko, tenor (Levko)
  • Natalia Erasova, soprano (Hanna)
  • Marina Lapina, soprano (Pannochka)
  • Yvacheslaw Pochapsky, bass (The Mayor)
  • Alexander Arkhipov, tenor (The Distiller)
  • Elena Okolycheva, contralto (The Mayor's Sister-in-Law)
  • Piotr Gluboky, tenor (The Clerk)
  • Nikolai Reshetniak, bass (Kalenik, the Village Drunkard)
Sveshnikov Academic Choir
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Andrey Chistiakov
Brilliant Classics 94036 123:40 2CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC

Summary for the Busy Executive: Blini and lots of sour cream.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's career divides in two. The first part saw the creation of his most popular orchestral music – Scheherazade, Antar, Sadko, through the Russian Easter Overture. In the second part, the composer concentrated on opera, and although orchestral excerpts have found their way onto concert programs, the operas themselves haven't seen the stage all that much in the West since the 1900s. Dramatically, most of them suffer next to works like Boris Godunov and Pique Dame, not to mention the operas of Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. However, they contain a lot of wonderful music.

May Night represents a breakthrough of sorts for Rimsky, where he discovered the operatic uses of Russian folk sources. The story comes from Gogol, the composer's favorite author. A young man, Levko, the mayor's son, wants to marry Hanna. His father wants Hanna for himself. Through the supernatural aid of the water sprite Pannochka, Levko wins his girl. You can see the plot's slightness, but the music invests the romance with rich color. What is clear is Rimsky's love of Russian rural culture. The opera's overture has received a number of recordings all on its own, but the entire opera surpasses any part. You bathe in glorious tunes, I believe all original with Rimsky, gorgeous colors from the orchestra, vigorous humor in the comic scenes, and delicate fancy in the fairy-tale ones.

Brilliant classics have long issued fine recordings at ridiculously low prices. This is a bargain set. The orchestra is good enough, the voices okay, with the exception of Nikolai Reshetniak, a first-rate Russian bass in the unlikely minor role of the village drunk. Vitaly Taraschenko as Levko rings out in his upper register but struggles in the middle and low end of his voice. The comic trio – the Mayor, his sister-in-law, and the Distiller – all seem past their vocal prime, while the sopranos Hanna and Pannochka sing well enough. However, none of this matters. Rimsky's music, under the alert guidance of conductor Andrey Chistiakov, carries everybody through. A good deal.

Copyright © 2015, Steve Schwartz