The series, of which there are fuller details on their website, promises to cover songs by 50 Russians extending to Rachmaninov (superbly recorded by Decca with Ashkenazy and Soderstrom), Medtner (greatly in need of a complete series to parallel the two cycles of his piano music) and Mussorgsky plus many other, less feted, names.
If this CD is representative of a school of singing then the qualities of artistocracy and passion inherent in Russian singing are vibrantly alive. Blessedly the voices are free from vibrato although they are male and vibrato was always less of an issue with men than with Slavonic sopranos.
The songs cover a considerable span of territory. Good to find Guriliov and Varlamov, Sviridov, Gavrilin and Tcherepnin in company with Rachmaninov, Medtner, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Dargomizhky.
There is not a single ‘clinker’ in the collection. Highlights are plentiful from which to choose. The Song of the Flea famously hammed up by Chaliapin is done with gusto and taste by Gavrilov. The dream is given with the Puccinian Italianate passion we know from Rachmaninov’s opera Francesca da Rimini. Tchaikovsky’s When the day reigns contains plenteous reminders of the composer’s famous first piano concerto. The disc has the audacity to end with the contemplative The heavenly wanderer by Tcherepnin; itself preceded by another low-toned song, Gavrilin’s To your snow-white bosom. Rachmaninov makes serious sport of Beethoven’s fifth symphony’s fate motif in The Destiny.
As the series unrolls there will be collections of songs by Yuri Shaporin and Shebalin alongside other better known composers. Is it too much to hope that this series will have major choral spin-offs? I hope not and that, for example, Shaporin’s On the Field of Kulikovo (a setting of Alexander Blok) and The Story of the Fight for the Russian Earth (once available on EMI-Melodiya 2LP boxed set in the 1960s) will be tackled and as well sung as these songs.
All the songs are in Russian. Regrettably there are no notes and the single width leaflet does not reproduce the texts and translations of the songs. Perhaps this serves more as an appetiser for the main series and we should not expect full documentation in the circumstances?
The always sensitive pianist, Irina Sharapova, is also the Artistic Director of the series.
With the exception of the lack of notes and texts this issue bodes very well for the rest of what promises to be a long series. I wish it well. It seems to be in safe and inspired hands. All they need is to get the notes and texts right.
© Rob Barnett
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