Vladimir Galuzin as Alexei, a private tutor and the gambler of the title, is the star of the show. His committed acting, inextricably blended with his powerful singing, carries all before it. Tatiana Pavlovskaya as his beloved, Polina, is also very strong, and Valery Gergiev conducts with aplomb. The recorded sound is of the highest quality. All in all, this Gambler amply repays investigation.
Finally, the last of four CDs of Bach’s church cantatas, three of which I discussed last month. This one contains works composed for the Feast of the Purification of Mary, 2nd February, commemorating the day Joseph and Mary went to the temple for her “purification” after childbirth. In Shakespeare’s day it was called Candlemas. At the temple they met Simeon who uttered the prayer known as the “Nunc dimittis.” Simeon had been promised he wouldn’t die before seeing the Messiah, so his words have been understood as embracing a contented death. The elderly prophetess Anna was also present, and the scene has frequently been depicted in paintings.
The most famous of these cantatas is BWV 82, Ich habe genug or “I have enough” (see my last review for an explanation of the BWV numbers). It’s for solo bass, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded it three times. The bass here, Peter Harvey, isn’t a Fischer-Dieskau, but is nonetheless more than adequate for the task. The occasion’s combination, however, of acquiescence and lugubriousness, doesn’t necessarily please, though Bach cheers things up in his final movement.
More attractive for me was BWV 83, the first cantata Bach wrote for this festival, where the buoyant enthusiasm of the third movement, for tenor (Paul Agnew) with violin accompaniment, is much more to my taste. BWV 200 is a fragment, a single alto aria (sung here by countertenor Robin Tyson), and even that is an arrangement by Bach of another composer’s work.
My favorite of these “Purification” cantatas (which I only got to know properly this week) is BWV 125. It has exceptional dynamism and variety, encompassing the sweetness of the paired flute and oboe d’amore in the alto aria (track 12 on this CD), and especially the remarkable duo aria (track 14) in which tenor and bass compete in vocal complexity to a vigorous string accompaniment.