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 Recording of the Week  Gergiev at the Mariinsky

With all the doom and gloom still dominating the headlines, the news of a new record label launching comes as something of a surprise but that is exactly what the Mariinsky Theatre have just done – launching their own label (simply called ‘Mariinsky’) with the release last week of Shostakovich’s satirical opera The Nose.

The Mariinsky theatre has a long and illustrious history, primarily under the name of the Kirov Opera and Ballet by which it was known until recently. But in the last twenty years, under the guidance of Artistic Director Valery Gergiev it has entered a new era of artistic excellence and creativity, and is now considered one of the very finest in world. Gergiev rules with an autocracy pretty much unparalleled today, where he has complete control over all decisions, whether they be artistic, financial or strategic. You probably have to go back to Karajan and his relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic to find a conductor with such personality and influence.

Valery Gergiev
Valery Gergiev

Gergiev was elected artistic director in 1988 and signed an exclusive contract with Philips the year after. The next three years were very difficult in Russia with the country basically breaking up and, with little or no money to pay musicians, many of the biggest stars like Gidon Kremer, Evgeny Kissin, Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov emigrated. The fact that Gergiev stayed and fought through all this is I suspect one of the reasons why he is so highly respected and esteemed by his fellow countrymen now.

The collaboration with Philips lasted many years and produced both fantastic and award winning recordings. The projects they undertook were often huge and included a large number of Russian operas such as Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Prokofiev’s War and Peace. However, in recent years Philips (now part of Decca) have like all the majors considerably cut back on the number of new recordings they make. In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year Gergiev said that he felt they had abandoned making serious recordings altogether:

“Did they want to do a Mahler cycle?” he asked, rhetorically. “No. Beethoven, no. They didn’t even want all of Tchaikovsky.”

Either way Philip’s loss has been LSO Live’s and now Mariinsky’s gain. The Mahler cycle is ongoing under the former while Mariinsky already have several recordings in the can and I’ve seen some mouth-watering projects (including a number of Wagner operas) in the advance schedule. If you’d like to find out more about what Gergiev has achieved at the Mariinsky then you can read the entire facilitating New York Times article here.

But finally, I want to return briefly to the new release of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose. It was recorded in Mariinsky’s new concert hall which by all accounts is acoustically one of the finest ever built. And the sound of the orchestra and soloists on this new recording is quite superb. The Nose is one of Shostakovich’s earliest works and was written when he was in his early twenties. In many ways I’d say it sounds like it, and while there isn’t really enough material to justify the three acts, it is really quite exciting to hear the way the unrefined and raw Shostakovich thought. Either way the performance is superb and it is a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable addition to the catalogue.

Shostakovich: The Nose

Vladislav Sulimsky, Alexei Tanovitski,Tatiana Kravtsova, Andrei Popov, Sergei Semishkur, Gennady Bezzubenkov, Vadim Kravets, Sergei Skorokhodov,Yevgeny Strashko, Elena Vitman & Zhanna Dombrovskaya

Mariinsky Orchestra & Chorus, Valery Gergiev

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC