TCHAIKOVSKY: Scenes from Queen of Spades
Sergej Larin (Hermann); Elena Prokina (Lisa); Vassily Gerello (Tomsky); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Yeletsky); Elena Obraztsova (Countess); Marina Domashenko (Pauline); Irina Vaschenko (Masha); Alexei Maslov (Chekalinsky); Spiritual Revival Choir of Russia; Philharmonia of Russia/Constantine Orbelian, cond.
DELOS DS 3289 TT: 77:57 (5 channel)

LISZT: Dante Symphony. Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo.
London Oratory School Schola; London Symphony Orch/Leon Botstein, cond.
TELARC SACD 60613 TT: 63:54(5.1 channel)

Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, based on a novella by Alexander Pushkin, tells the tragic tale of the young officer Hermann's obsession with winning at cards. Premiered in1890, up until recently it has been relatively neglected in the operatic world although recently there have been a number of successful new productions. The old Countess knows the secret of the winning cards, and, to try to discover this secret, Hermann courts the young Lisa, who is the Countess' granddaughter, who is engaged to Prince Yeletsky. When Hermann demands the secret in a confrontation with the Countess, she dies but returns later as an apparition pleading that Hermann marry Lisa and giving him the secret of the winning cards as a reward. In the final scene of the opera Hermann wagers everything he has at cards; the first two cards he chooses are winners, but the third, instead of being the winning ace, is the queen of spades. In desperation, Hermann stabs himself pleading for Lisa's forgiveness. A rather gloomy, but powerful opera, well excerpted on this well-filled (77:57) SACD . The cast surely is authoritative, with Sergej Larin perfect as Hermann, Dmitri Hvorostovsky superb as Yeletsky, his first singing of the role. Elena Prokina as Lisa is a bit shrill on occasion, Elena Obraztsova, who has been a major mezzo in the operatic world for four decades, gives a powerful, dramatic interpretation of the Countess, a role that doesn't necessarily require a beautiful voice. The orchestra and chorus are excellent. Delos' sound is big, rich and resonant, with the performers in front, ambient sound from the sides. For my taste, the voices are overly prominent. Profuse program notes and a complete libretto for the excerpts heard on this SACD, in the original Russian and English, are included.

Telarc's recording of orchestral works of Franz Liszt with the London Symphony conducted by Leon Botstein was reviewed several months ago on this site by R.D. (see REVIEW). I totally agree with his views on the high quality of these performances. The SACD multi-channel issue is utterly magnificent in its clarity, natural sound, perfect balances and hall ambience. Really very special indeed, and highly recommended.

R.E.B. (December 2003) (NEXT SURROUND REVIEW)