Rachmaninov The Miserly Knight

Author: 
John Warrack

Rachmaninov The Miserly Knight

  • (The) Miserly Knight

Pushkin's ''little tragedies'' have attracted a number of composers (Dargomizhsky to The Stone Guest, Rimsky-Korsakov to Mozart and Salieri). He called them ''dramatic investigations'', and they confront moral issues without passing judgement. Here, the issue is money and its constraining effect on three figures—on young Albert who lacks it, on his father the Baron, the eponymous Miserly Knight who devotes his whole emotional being to it, on the Jew who has to live by lending it. The central scene of the three is a huge monologue in which the Knight apostrophizes his gold, like a lover, like a gaoler, like a sinner indulging his vice, like a ruler surveying his domains. He is above desire, he claims, he is at peace: John Bayley goes so far as to call him the most spiritual nature in all Pushkin.
Rachmaninov does not respond directly to this Pushkinian irony, but his monologue is a magnificent study of obsession, and in a fine performance attains a gloomy nobility. He intended it for Chaliapin, who first turned it down, and later had little success with it. Here, it is sung with morose intensity by Mikhail Krutikov, who naturally dominates the proceedings. Vladimir Kudriashov hurls himself at Albert with a will, and though his manner is a little monotonous, this is a fair reflection of the young man's own obsession. Alexander Arkhipov has to cope with a portrait of the Jew that Pushkin modelled on Shylock and can easily seem no more than unpleasantly anti-Semitic, the more so when there is a whine in the music. It is to his credit that he preserves the dignity which Shylock also contains. The orchestra, which plays a crucial role in this continuously composed score, is directed with a firm and sympathetic hand by Andrey Chistiakov.
There are English and French texts, but no Russian original or transliteration, which makes it hard to follow for those with no Russian. The English is well done, though it misses a point when Albert addresses the Jew offensively as zhid (''yid''), and the Jew refers to himself without reproof by the proper evrey.'

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