About this Recording
8.111124-26 - MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina (Freidkov, Nechayev, Khaikin) (1946)

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
Khovanshchina (Leningrad, 1946)

The composer Modest Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, situated in the north-west of Russia, in 1839, the son of wealthy land-owners. He entered military school in St Petersburg in 1852, and joined a regiment in 1856. The following year he met the composers Dargomizhsky and Balakirev and began to study music with the latter. He resigned from the army in 1858, but never studied systematically. His family’s fortune declined after 1861 and the liberation of the serfs, but he was in sympathy with this movement, and was happy to subsist on a small income from government employment. His interest in the common people of Russia led him to compose songs which followed the inflections of their speech, and he developed this approach in his operas. He finished his best-known opera Boris Godunov in its original form in 1869. This was rejected by the Imperial Opera. Mussorgsky re-wrote it and it was finally produced in 1874. Mussorgsky gradually sank into poverty and acute alcoholism, but nonetheless between 1872 and 1880 managed to compose most of his second opera Khovanschina. He died in a St Petersburg hospital in 1881 as a result of a spinal disease. Of the Russian composers of this period known as the ‘Mighty Handful’, Mussorgsky was the most original and imaginative.

Khovanshchina was first performed at St Petersburg in 1886. Left unfinished at Mussorgsky’s death, it was completed and orchestrated by Rimsky- Korsakov. The score included a complete scene from an earlier opera by Mussorgsky, entitled The Landless Peasant. The libretto was written by the composer and the highly influential critic Vladmir Stasov. Set in Moscow during the seventeenth century, it contrasts the political machinations of the period with the religious beliefs of a sect known as the Old Believers. In summary, the faction led by Prince Ivan Khovansky joins forces with the Old Believers, led by the monk Dosifey, against the supporters of Peter the Great, led by Prince Golitsïn. Ivan Khovansky’s son, Andrey, becomes reunited with his former lover, Marfa, an Old Believer and a prophetess. Peter the Great and his followers emerge triumphant, and Ivan Khovansky is murdered by the treacherous courtier, Shaklovity. Rather than submit to religious reform, the Old Believers, led by Dosifey and Marfa, immolate themselves in their forest refuge.

This recording of Khovanshchina was made in Leningrad during 1946, and is a fine example of the strengths of the Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet (formerly the Marïinsky Theatre, where the opera was first performed) during the post-war period, when the opera wing was led by the conductor Boris Khaikin. Born in Minsk in 1904, Khaikin studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included Nikolai Malko and Konstantin Saradjev for conducting. After graduating in 1928 he was engaged as conductor at Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theatre. During Stanislavsky’s last years (he died in 1938) one of his principal interests was the perfection of his acting method and its use in opera, and he thus exerted a great influence upon Khaikin. Khaikin took over from Samuel Samosud as chief conductor at the Maly Theatre in Leningrad in 1936, and remained in this post until 1943, when he moved to the Kirov Theatre, remaining there as chief conductor until 1954. At the Kirov he continued the successful artistic policy that he had followed at the Maly, conducting a repertoire that contained a notable number of new works composed in the preferred Soviet style, as well as the traditional Russian operatic repertoire, of which he was a distinguished interpreter. His final appointment was as conductor at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow, which he held from 1954 until his death in 1978. An active teacher throughout his career, Khaikin’s pupils included Mark Ermler and Kyril Kondrashin.

The cast fielded for this recording is particularly strong. It is led by the bass Mark Reizen, singing the rôle of the monk Dosifey. A soldier in the First World War, he made his operatic début in 1921, before joining the Opera in Leningrad. He visited the West in 1930 when he recorded for EMI in London. He was a member of the Bolshoy company from 1930 until his retirement in 1955, after which he continued to appear as a guest, singing on stage there on his ninetieth birthday, and still exhibiting his formidable stage presence. He recorded this part for a second time in the Bolshoy production of circa 1950, originally conducted by Nikolay Golovanov, but on record by his deputy, Vasily Nebolsin, and he also appeared in a powerful Soviet film version of the opera.

As Dosifey’s colleague, Marfa, the Kirov cast one of the most outstanding Russian mezzo-sopranos of the time, Sofia Preobrazhenskya, who was born and died in Leningrad. Her career as an opera singer spanned over thirty years and was focused almost exclusively upon this city. She studied at the Leningrad Conservatory with the distinguished tenors Ershoff and Zaitseva, and made her début at Gatob in 1928 in the role of the Page in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. She appeared at the Salzburg Festival in the same year and later became the first Russian to sing Octavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in her native language. Her repertoire included the major mezzosoprano parts, notably Joan of Arc in Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans, Marina in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. She refused to leave her native city during the siege which it endured in 1941 and 1942 and did much to sustain morale. She was named a People’s Artist of the USSR in 1955, and as late as 1960 sang the part of the Countess on the soundtrack of a film version of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov.

The rôle of Prince Ivan Khovansky is taken by the bass Boris Freidkov. He made his début in 1927 at the Maly Theatre in Leningrad, having studied with Gabel, who also taught the tenor Georgi Nelepp. In addition to singing the traditional bass repertoire, he sang in a Russian production of Ernst Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf, at Gatob. Andrey Khovansky is sung by Ivan Nechayev, who studied at the Leningrad Musical Institute, and was engaged by the Maly Theatre from 1929 onwards. A versatile tenor he sang rôles such as Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and the Duke in Verdi’s Rigoletto, and in addition participated in the first performances of Shostakovich’s The Nose. The part of Golitsïn is taken by Vladimir Ulyanov, who studied at Sverdlovsk, where he made his début in 1932. He carried on studying at the Leningrad Conservatory, and during the 1930s sang as a baritone. He made his début as a tenor with the rôle of Herman in The Queen of Spades in 1940, and continued to be active on the stage until 1960. Little is known of Ivan Shashkov, who sings the rôle of Shaklovity, other than that he was a stalwart member of the Kirov company, the strengths of which are so memorably displayed in this recording.

David Patmore

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