Rachmaninov (The) Miserly Knight

Rachmaninov’s showpiece for Chaliapin is compellingly brought to life on disc

Author: 
Geoffrey Norris

RACHMANINOV (The) Miserly Knight

  • (The) Miserly Knight

This fine, fiery, brooding performance of The Miserly Knight is an indispensable companion to the recording of Rachmaninov’s other mature opera, Francesca da Rimini, that the same team (with some differences in soloists) issued two years ago (1/08). Gianandrea Noseda leads the BBC Philharmonic and a cast from St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in delving deep into the score’s substance. Both operas might have their dramaturgical difficulties when done on stage, but in concert or on disc they are powerful examples of Rachmaninov’s capacity to tap the expressive potential of the voice and to charge emotional situations with energy and poignancy.

Whereas Francesca da Rimini has a fairly workmanlike libretto by Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest, Rachmaninov decided in The Miserly Knight to set almost exactly word-for-word a prose poem-cum-play by Pushkin, one of his so-called “little tragedies”. Its central panel is a long monologue for the Baron (the Miserly Knight of the title), a role conceived with Chaliapin in mind and here sung with commanding presence and rich, malleable tone by Ildar Abdrazakov as he drools over his wealth and the cruel ways in which it has been amassed. He is well matched by, and contrasted with, the passionate tenor of Misha Didyk as his resentful son, Albert, and by the sly, ingratiating characterisation of the Moneylender by tenor Peter Bronder. Orchestral atmosphere, backed by a spectrum of colour comparable to that of the Second Symphony, is compellingly established by Noseda, whose theatrical instincts also reflect and enhance the opera’s dramatic thrust.

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