Chandos completes its series of recordings of Rachmaninov's three one-act operas with his first, Aleko, written in 1893 when he was 19 and a student at the Moscow Conservatory. It was his first great success, but it lacks the musical distinction and dramatic power to have secured a place in the repertoire. Based on Pushkin, the opera tells of an outsider who has joined a band of gypsies who turns to murder when he discovers that his wife has betrayed him. The narrative connection with Carmen is no coincidence; Prosper Merimée, a great admirer of Pushkin, had translated the original poem into French at about the same time he published the novella on which Bizet's opera is based. The musical originality of the opera is a reflection of the composer's youth and inexperience. While it is skillfully and professionally constructed, the influences of Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Cavalleria Rusticana (whose Moscow premiere the young composer had attended two years earlier), and, not surprisingly, Carmen, are transparently evident in the score of Aleko. This very fine performance of the opera should interest Rachmaninov fans. As in the two previous releases, Gianandrea Noseda leads the BBC Philharmonic and is joined here by the Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino. The performance is spirited and energetic, and if the score as a whole doesn't always cohere, the individual numbers are always persuasive. As Zemfira, the unfaithful wife, soprano Svetla Vassileva sounds somewhat underpowered and occasionally shrill, but the male leads, baritone Sergey Murzaev, tenor Evgeny Akimov, and especially bass Gennady Bezzubenkov, are highly effective. Chandos' sound is clear and nicely balanced, but it's miked at a relatively low level, so the volume may need boosting.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins