GHCD 2206 – Feodor Chaliapin in Moussorgsky’s Boris Godounov – 1928

Chorus and Orchestra of The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Vincenzo Bellezza – Conductor, Boris – Feodor Chaliapin, Tchelkalov – Astride Barrachi, Shiusky – Angelo Bada, Dimitri – Dino Borgioli, Varlaam – Salvatore Baccaloni, Theodore – Margherita Corosio, Lavretzky – Dennis Noble, Tcheraiakovsky – Astride Baracchi, Innocente – Octave Dua, Pimen – Luigi Manfrini

To the CD in our Shop

Gramophone – June 2014

As a self-taught singer with a rogue lifestyle, Chaliapin might seem to be an accidental legend: a natural talent emerging from the Russian steppes whose grand but tragic presence made him the foremost Boris Godunov of his time. That notion was vigorously dispelled by the great voice (and Gramophone) critic John Steane: ‘Chaliapin was a disciplined, unmannered artist with a voice that stayed fresh into his 60s. Probably the greatest actor-singer the operatic stage has known,’ he wrote. And not a `singer-actor’?
Compared to his contemporaries and descendants, Chaliapin had a pre-Caruso voice, a lean instrument with no extraneous roar or rumble and a delicate upper range capable of conveying disarming intimacy – all powered by a profound theatrical imagination. In his 1933 Adventures of Don Quixote film, the voice, words and physicality are a single, naturalistic entity. His 12 discs’ worth of recordings show how masterfully he .integrated rhetoric into a vocal line with minimal Sense of external observation. He became what he sang. Was there any comparison?
Maria Callas.

Music Web Friday September 06 02

The 4 July 1928 Covent Garden excerpts of Chaliapin’s Boris Godounov have appeared in various guises before. Indeed it was the appearance of an LP, RLS742, with the preserved sides and a subsequent review that spurred Richard Caniell to exercise his judgement with regard to the complexities regarding the lack of the Pimen scene in Act IV. The fact that it was lacking meant that an interpolation was necessary to ensure narrative flow, since this was the raison d’être of Guild’s production. Twenty-one sides were recorded by HMV in 1928. The EMI LP released, for the first time, the Pilgrim’s Chorus from the prologue but Boris’s I am oppressed was damaged, as Caniell notes, and a later Chaliapin recording of this, with Albert Coates, was substituted “reshaping the sonics to match that of Covent Garden” to quote Caniell. The main point of contention concerns the Pimen passage, which is missing, as is the orchestral section which leads to Boris’ Farewell. An interpolation, in Italian, by Nicola Moscona has been used instead, elsewhere provisionally identified as a New York Metropolitan performance. Richard Caniell has stated his position on this and other matters in a long letter to this site and I would draw readers’ attention to it.

Irrespective of the complications implicit in this kind of restoration the sound on this Guild disc is truly excellent and the voices emerge with fidelity. Chaliapin’s voice saw surprisingly little deterioration in quality of colour and depth in the years between the first decade of the century and the early thirties; it remained the noble and powerfully expressive instrument it always had been, allied to his remarkable skills of impersonation. The characterization of Boris was complete in its variety and depth. The otherwise near-all Italian cast was a strong one – notably the buffo Baccaloni. Lavretzky incidentally was sung by Dennis Noble. The orchestra is on notably well-behaved form, responding fluidly to the direction of Vincenzo Bellezza. He is a forgotten figure now but was a major conductor and had worked with Chaliapin in 1926 – recording with him as well. His discography is pitifully small but this Boris goes some way to demonstrating why he was held in such esteem – his rehearsals were meticulous even if his English was idiosyncratic. He died in 1964 and this will remain probably his lasting – if incomplete, necessarily imperfect – memorial. Documentation is good, in Guild’s now accustomed livery, and the problems set out with clarity, though the exact provenance of Moscona’s scene is not disclosed.
Jonathan Woolf

Classic Record Collector – Spring 2002

This famous performance is so much taken for granted that recently it has been possible to obtain only Chaliapin’s scenes; and producer Richard Caniell has here assembled more of it than we have ever heard before. Much though not all, of what he has done is detailed in the notes, Suffice it to say that he has brought us the Prelude and opening chorus, previously heard by only a hand full of , as well as three rale sides including the Revolutionary Scene. The Act IV scene with the Boyars and Shuisky, unissued at the time, is familiar to Chaliapin collectors; but Caniell has borrowed a Pirmen monologue (from a MET performance?) to fill in an important gap. In the Prologue he has joined up the live Coronation Scene to the relevant portions of the studio recording conducted by Coates. For myself, the result has been to raise my opinion of Bellezza’s conducting and the excellent Covent Garden Chorus even further. It has also been fascinating to hear Chaliapin’s contribution in a fuller context.

Comming back to this legendary portrayal after not hearing it for a time. I tried to analyse why Chaliapin was so revered. His voice was itself a distinctive instrument, a little weak in the lower register- even the low F was not really ‘in the voice’- but with real bass resonance in the lower-middle and middle ranges and a resounding top register which enabled him to handle the tessitura of the Rimsky Korsakov arrangement of Boris. Then there was his uncanny control. His singing of the bel canto repertoire was singular, to say the least, yet his technique involved many of the basic verities. His command of crescendo, diminuendo and morendo was absolute and his pianissimo always had ‘body’. His legato was like that of a fine cellist – only Pasquale Amato comes to mind as havint the same quality – with beautiful intonation,. Chaliapin told the character bass Pavel Zhuravlenko that in his youth he had often sung out of tune and had worked fanatically to pieces with narrow intervals from the bel canto repertoire in order to rid himself of this fault. Here, in the heat of performance, we can hear how the rr year-old singer used this intuitive knowledge of technique in the cause of his art. Freed from the tyranny of 78rpm side lengths that hampers some of his studio records, he can spread himself and spin out the phrase as the spontaneity of the moment dictates. Boris’s Prayer and Death are mesmerising because the vocal line carries such a change of intensity. The Act II Monologue is similarly involving and the Clock Scene shows us the more extrovert performer whose acting was so acclaimed.

The rest of the cast – singing in Italian, as was the custom of the day – includes several stalwarts of La Scala, although only Nessi sang his role there. He and Baccaloni make a characterful pair in the Revolutionary Scene, where Dino Borgioli’s voice rings out with surprising volume as Dimitri. Bada, a famous Shuisky, is robbed of his scene with Boris – the master was damaged – but comes across well, as does Octave Dua as the Simpleton. Moscona’s is nothing special and in a 20-page booklet we are not told the provenance of his scene, or who the Boris is who can be heard exclaiming and collapsing at the end of his narrative. The cast list on the back inlay is a disgrace, grabling characters- ‘Lavretzky’ Tcheraiakovsky’ – and theie interpreters.’Corosio’ and Astride Barrachi’ Luigi Manfrini is listed as Pirmen although he is not heard. . The recording itself could be clearer and more forward. Feodor Challiapin on Stage (Preiser 89965) gets much bolder sound out of the protagonist’s scenes, although the effect is slightly spoilt by added resonance. For all its limitations of sound and presentation, this Guild compilation is riveting listening

Classical Music on the Net Monday January 28 2002

This series, launched in January 2002, aims to be “The Finest in Broadcast Recording”. The majority of the first releases, and I suspect many of those in future, derive from NBC broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, dating from the 1930s and 1940s. This is an early exception and is of a very famous performance featuring (and dominated by) the great Feodor Chaliapin in the name part. In a booklet note, the progenitor of the series, Richard Caniell, states that 21 masters were made of the performance. However, he lists only 20, giving DB or Vic numbers and noting those damaged, never released, as well as those issued on 78s. This information seems too derive from Keith Hardwick, widely recognised as the great miner, and restorer, of the E.M.I. archive, and consultant to this series. Where no master was made, as in the case of Pimen’s narrative in Act 4, in the interests of completion, an interpolation has been made from another recording; in this case one also sung in Italian by Nicola Moscana. Where the master was damaged, Caniell has inserted (as in ” I am oppressed” from the Prologue) an extract from the 1931 recording under Albert Coates.

The reason for all the effort in bringing forward this issue is the presence of Chaliapin, who was described by Toscanini as the greatest singer ever to appear under his baton. Also a very great actor, he could distort his vocal performance to suit his interpretation (Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust). Born in 1873, he first sang Boris in 1898 and was aged 55 at the time of this recording. None-the-less it is his vocal performance that dominates this CD, which includes all Boris’ arias and scenes. Chaliapin’s voice is strong and full toned albeit lacking some of the sap that is to be discerned, despite recording limitations, in earlier recordings, examples of which can be found on EMI References CDH 761009. What made Chaliapin arguably the greatest singer of the century was his capacity to convey a character in all moods and few characters in opera are as complex in this respect than Czar Boris. The way Chaliapin colours and covers his tone, and varies the stress on the words, brings the Czars’ many moods to life.

The other parts are all well sung with the buffo bass of his time, Baccaloni, giving Varlaam plenty of presence and character. The recording has good orchestral sound and the conductor supports his singers well. In order not to lose vocal and instrumental overtones, it is the policy of the series not to remove clicks etc. Whilst some such noises are present (tr .1 2’50”), I did not find these to be excessive or disturbing. It must have been a memorable night at the opera!

The booklet provides a synopsis with track points, as well as notes on Chaliapin and source and restoration details.
Robert J Farr


Centre de Production de LiègeJe m’empresse d’établir mes commentaires au sujet de cette édition absolument capitale : les mélomanes amateurs de gravures historiques ont longtemps rêvé d’une réédition intégrale des 20 faces 78 t./min du légendaire ” Boris Godounov ” par Feodor Chaliapine et les forces du Royal Opera House de Covent Garden, réalisé en “live” par HMV en juillet 1928.

Bien sûr au fil des années, depuis cette date, HMV a réédité sous diverses incarnations cette mémorable exécution, mais toujours uniquement les faces consacrées à Chaliapine, l’une des raisons (outre la présence prestigieuse du chanteur) étant que tous les autres interprètes – sous la houlette d’un chef italien, Vincenzo Bellezza – chantaient en …italien ! Toutefois ce qui semble actuellement une hérésie ne l’était probablement pas en 1928, et il serait dommage de se priver d’une occasion rare, unique, de remettre le chant (russe !) de Chaliapine dans le contexte d’une exécution “live” survoltée la plus complète possible, même s’il faut reconnaître que les autres interprètes ne sont pas toujours du même calibre que cet immense chanteur-comédien.

Grâce au label GUILD , ce rêve est enfin exaucé, et de manière péremptoire. La qualité des transferts est remarquable, la meilleure que nous avons entendu pour les gravures relatives à Chaliapine. Quant aux autres faces, elles possèdent un bruit de fond variable, probablement en raison de leur rareté. Précisons que ces transferts ont été réalisés avec honnêteté, c’est-à-dire sans filtrage excessif et sans réverbération ajoutée ni fausse stéréo.

Cette réalisation est d’autant plus sympathique qu’elle constitue l’une des premières incursions de ce label dans le domaine de la restauration historique, sous l’égide de l’Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society et de son maître d’œuvre Richard Caniell, le tout sous la supervision de Keith Hardwick, l’un des ingénieurs du son les plus estimés de EMI dans le domaine de la restauration sonore. Sur le CD même, vous lirez “The Finest in Historic Broadcasts” : exceptionnellement, même s’il ne s’agit pas à proprement parler de radiodiffusion, GUILD a inclus dans cette série ces gravures “live” HMV de Chaliapine de la plus haute importance. Le résultat est que pour un début du label GUILD dans le domaine des enregistrements historiques “live”, c’est un véritable coup de maître ! Présentation élégante avec de nombreuses photos et textes substantiels très informatifs, comme de coutume chez GUILD.
Michel TIBBAUT , ir.



I am eager to offer my comments about this absolutely major edition. Amateur enthusiasts of historic recordings have, for a long time, dreamed of an unabridged (complete) re-issue of the 20 – 78 rpm sides of the legendary “Boris Godounov” by Feodor Chaliapin and the company of the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden, recorded “live” by HMV in July 1928.

Of course, over the years since that date, HMV has re-issued this memorable recording in various reincarnations but only the selections sung by Chaliapin, one of the reasons (other than the prestigious presence of the singer) being that all the other artists “under the wing” of the Italian maestro, Vincenzo Bellezza, sang in Italian!

Moreover, what today seems like heresy probably was not in 1928, and it would be unfortunate to be deprived of a rare and unique occasion to reintegrate the singing (in Russian!) of Chaliapin in the context of the most complete live recording, recognizing that other singers are not of the caliber of this great singer-performer.

Thanks to the Guild label, this dream is finally realized and in a peremptory manner. The quality of the transfer is remarkable, the best we have heard of Chaliapin’s recordings. As for the other selections, they have variable background noise, probably because of their rarity. We should point out that these transfers have been produced with honesty, that is, without excessive filtering and without added reverberation or false stereo.

This production is all the more wonderful in that it constitutes one of the first ventures of this label into the domain of historical restoration, under the aegis of the Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society and its principal director, Richard Caniell, the supervision of Keith Hardwick, one of the most prestigious EMI sound engineers in the area of sound restoration. On the CD itself, one will read: “with exception even though it is not a broadcast in the strictest sense, Guild has, by including it in this series, given the highest importance to the live HMV recordings of Chaliapin. The result is that for a debut in the area of historic live recordings, it is truly a master stroke. Elegant (booklet) presentation with numerous photographs and substantial informative text, as is the tradition of Guild.

Classical Music on the Web – January 2001

Guild Music has an association with Immortal Performances which has an archive of first-generation historic broadcasts from the 1930s and 1940s. This initial release (the others are a 1943 Figaro, a 1937 Siegfried, and Act 2 of Parsifal from 1938) sets a standard hard to beat. All the discs are transfers from the original transcription discs’ master tapes. Transcripts of the complete Toscanini broadcasts from the same period are also planned. So too is a complete and mouth-wateringly cast Ring, of which Siegfried forms a segment.

Pace Ezio Pinza, Alexander Kipnis, and Boris Christoff, there has never been, neither before or since, a greater exponent of the role of Boris than Chaliapin and this is a wonderful testimony to his portrayal. Despite the length of the cast (and the fact that, as Italians, they all sing in Italian, while he sings in his native Russian) it is Chaliapin who dominates it all. His prayer, farewell and death are totally riveting and agonising despite the passage of time – 64 years – which has elapsed. Apart from the excellent chorus no one comes within touching distance of even a mention. My one regret is that the conductor is not Albert Coates with whom Chaliapin had a singular rapport and whose interpretation of the opera was second to none. Though some at the time may have said that Chaliapin’s voice had lost some of the quality it had possessed in the Beecham days of Drury Lane fifteen years earlier, all clearly marvelled at the nobility of the sound, the acutely dramatic realisation of the character, and the magnetic force which exerted itself on all around him, whether on stage or in the auditorium. He lived and breathed Boris and listening to this disc brings images to mind of Ivan the Terrible as portrayed in the Eisenstein films of the day. Chaliapin was a larger than life character who sang and acted a compelling and immortal performance, and this is what communicates down the decades. There is a remarkable feeling of understatement in his portrayal, small gestures, mezza voce, but full of intensity and laser-focused in sound. His death scene runs the full gauntlet of emotion, crazed, angry, fearful, remorseful in prayer but never losing eloquence. This has been a labour of love by the Guild team, Richard Caniell, with the aid of Keith Hardwick who supplied the missing Pimen Narrative, which was not recorded at the Covent Garden performance but taken from one sung elsewhere by Nicola Moscona. The source and restoration process is interestingly set out in an essay and reveals which parts have never been heard since 1928. It must have been the experience of a lifetime to have been there to hear it live, but we must now be grateful to Guild for recreating it for us today.
Christopher Fifield

It must have been the experience of a lifetime to have been there to hear it live, but we must now be grateful to Guild for recreating it for us today. …