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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016

impressive effect that’s very well captured in the video direction.

There are pros and cons to the concept, inevitably, and the cool palette of colours in Cav, in particular, reflects little of the drama’s sun-baked atmosphere and attendant hot-blooded passions; a heady air of easy rusticity is replaced with a sense of heavy industrial smog. The Alfio-asgangster conceit is more believable (thanks largely to Ambrogio Maestri’s larger-thanlife portrayal) than the idea of Mamma Lucia as a sort of town clerk. But we get an unexpected level of detail in the characterisation, particularly when it comes to the depiction of Santuzza and Turridu’s domestic situation: a quiet, pervasive sadness hangs over their urban garret, into which Stölzl has added a choirboy son. It all helps make the two main characters more than just embodiments, respectively, of jealous womanly vengeance and immature macho irresponsibility and narcissism; Liudmyla Monastyrska’s Santuzza, sung with rich and generous tone, is especially moving. The filmic nature of Stölzl’s vision, meanwhile, serves to alter one’s perception of Mascagni’s episodic score by cleverly aligning its gearshifts with scene changes.

Pagliacci feels more conventional, with Canio’s troupe bringing muted colour to the same worn-down world. Again there are pros and cons. Stölzl elicits a terrific central performance from Kaufmann once more: his clown comes across as threatening, short-fused and world-weary from the start – given an extra edginess by the addition of a Mephistophelian goatee – and he turns in a towering performance of ‘Vesti la giubba’ as one long crescendo. But I was less keen on the crowd milling around during Tonio’s Prologue (its members distractingly singled out in the camera direction), and it’s a shame that Stölzl’s arrangement for the play-withinthe-play sets up no fourth wall for Canio to tear angrily down at ‘No, pagliaccio non son’ – watch Vladimir Galouzine in Giancarlo del Monaco’s Madrid production (Opus Arte) to see how shockingly visceral this moment can and really should be.

But, on his own terms, Stölzl creates a drama of real intensity. Maria Agresta is a fine, exciting Nedda and Dimitri Platanias sings eloquently as a subtly malevolent Tonio. Alessio Arduini’s Silvio is pleasingly mellifluous, and his duet with Nedda, played out in a line-drawn expressionist landscape, is happily uncut – though the hurried removal of his shirt at the start of it strikes me as inconsistent with the production.

Underpinning the whole enterprise is the luxurious support of Christian Thielemann and his Staatskapelle Dresden. There’s a grandeur and sumptuousness to the sound and an occasional expansiveness to the conducting that are some way from being authentically Italianate, perhaps, but Thielemann is always aware of the drama and the beauties of the playing are many – the gentle way he has with Cav’s famous Intermezzo is understated, for example, but no less moving for it. Maybe stick with Del Monaco’s staging in Madrid for a more conventional modern version of both works, but this new account, built around two of Kaufmann’s finest performances, is compelling and fascinating. Highly recommended, especially at Sony Classical’s low price. Hugo Shirley Selected comparison: López-Cobos (1/08) (OPAR) ◊ OA0983D; Y OABD7018D

Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades Misha Didyk ten �Herman Tatiana Serjan sop �Lisa Larissa Diadkova mez �Countess Alexey Shishlyaev bar �Count Tomsky Alexey Markov bar �Prince Yeletsky Oksana Volkova mez �Polina Vadim Zaplechny ten �Chekalinsky Tomasz Slawinski bass-bar �Surin Mikhail Makarov ten �Chaplitsky Anatoli Sivko bass �Narumov Olga Savova mez �Governess Children’s Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera; Bavarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra / Mariss Jansons BR-Klassik M c 900129 (169’ • DDD • T/t) Recorded live at the Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich, October 4‑13, 2014

While Eugene Onegin is Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera, there’s a fair argument that

The Queen of Spades is his best. A gripping drama, it requires performances where you believe in Herman’s psychological descent as the desire to learn the secret of the three cards from the old Countess consumes everything, including his love for Lisa.

The opera has been lucky on disc, dominated in recent decades by recordings from Valery Gergiev and Seiji Ozawa, both from the early 1990s. They are joined by this resplendent account from Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, recorded in concert. Jansons has a fine pedigree in Tchaikovsky (his cycle of the symphonies for Chandos still holds strong) and he paces the opera unerringly well, building tension superbly. His Bavarians respond with atmospheric playing, burnished strings and dark woodwind coloration to the fore.

Alexandra Maria Dielitz’s excellent booklet essay explains how the Mariinsky director tried to persuade Tchaikovsky to set Pushkin’s story as an opera, ‘a Russian Carmen’. Parallels are drawn in deciphering fate from cards, but Tchaikovsky also channels Bizet in his children’s mocksoldier chorus. The Bavarian State Opera children’s choir offer characterful singing, if not as earthily Russian as Gergiev’s urchins. Jansons keeps the Mozartian pastiche light and fleet-footed, and even employs a fortepiano for Lisa and Polina’s duet to give a period feel.

Tatiana Serjan is a vibrant, fearless Lisa, as one might expect from a soprano who tackles the roles of Abigaille and Lady Macbeth. Hers is a voice with plenty of ‘blade’ when required, yet she can shade it beautifully. Her aria by the River Neva, as she awaits her final confrontation with Herman, is heartfelt. I prefer her to Mirella Freni, past her best when recording the role for Ozawa, while she matches Maria Guleghina (Gergiev) for drama. Misha Didyk, a less than convincing Manrico at La Monnaie (Bel Air, 2/15), surprises with his baritonal depths here as Herman, as well as a ringing top. There’s vivid characterisation too, thrilling in his encounters with Serjan’s Lisa, without the occasional spills of Vladimir Atlantov (Ozawa) or Gegam Grigorian (Gergiev).

Larissa Diadkova’s Countess happily relies more on secure vocal technique than scary histrionics and Oksana Volkova is a rich-voiced Polina. When it comes to the baritones, Jansons can’t quite compete with Ozawa. Alexey Markov is less refulgent of tone than Dmitri Hvorostovsky but sings a noble account of ‘Ya vas lyublyu’. Similarly, Alexey Shishlyaev lacks Sergei Leiferkus’s sardonic bite as Tomsky, but his narration of the legend of the three cards is effective, despite his upper notes being pushed. With an excellent recording – despite applause and some stage noise – this is a highly recommendable version of Tchaikovsky’s opera which pulls the listener into the drama. Mark Pullinger Selected comparisons: Ozawa (11/92R) (SONY) 88697 52771-2 Gergiev (10/93) (PHIL) 438 141-2PH3

Verdi Aida Anja Harteros sop �Aida Jonas Kaufmann ten �Radamès gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 31

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