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Eva Podleś - Recital
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810 – 1849) [12:00]
1. Gdzie lubi (There where she loves) Op. 74 No. 5 [1:25]
2. Pierścień (The ring) Op. 74 No. 14 [2:00]
3. Wojak (The warrior) Op. 74 No. 10 [2:19]
4. Pionska Litewska (Lithuanian song) Op. 74 No. 16 [2:18]
5. Śliczny chlopiec (Handsome lad) Op. 74 No. 8 [3:42]
Serge RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943) [7:34]
6. Khristos voskres (Christ is risen) Op. 26 No. 6 [2:54]
7. Davno v lyubvi (How fleeting is love’s delight) Op. 14 No. 3 [1:17]
8. Ona, kak polden’, khorosha (She is as beautiful as noon) Op. 14 No. 9 [3:03]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893) [12:54]
9. Ya li v pole da ne travushka bila (Was I not a little blade of grass) Op. 47 No. 7 [6:24]
10. Nyet, tol’ko tot kto znal (No, only one who knows longing) Op. 6 No. 6 [3:40]
11. Pesn’ Zemfiri (Zemfira’s song) [2:40]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882 – 1937)
Masques Op. 34 for solo piano [22:32]
12. Shéhérazade [9:51]
13. Tantris le bouffon [5:39]
14. Sérénade de Don Juan [6:51]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Songs  and Dances of Death [20:35]
15. Kolibelnaya (Lullaby) [4:53]
16. Serenada (Serenade) [4:26]
17. Trepak (Trepak) [4:44]
18. Polkovodets (The Field-Marshal) [6:20]
19. Announcement [0:06]
20. Prokhodit vsyo (All things pass away) Op. 26 No. 15 [2:45]
Eva Podleś (contralto), Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
rec. live, Wigmore Hall, London, 23 January 2008
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
Experience Classicsonline

The Polish contralto Eva Podleś first came to my notice through a Rossini recital (Naxos 8.553543) almost thirteen years ago. She impressed greatly then with her fruity tone, her magnificent low notes and an agility that one can’t take for granted in that voice range. The programme consisted of some of the most exacting arias in the repertoire and hers were glorious interpretations, not only technically but also dramatically. That long ago she was already a household name in the great opera houses in Europe; today she has widened the horizon further and conquered the US. Besides her operatic activities she is a sought after recitalist. This disc, recorded live at Wigmore Hall just over a year ago, shows why.
The excellence of her singing, as described above, remains in every respect valid today. Browsing through my notes words like ‘dramatic’, ‘grandiose voice’, ‘magnificent’, ‘stunning intensity’ are recurrent but also ‘inward concentration’, ‘superb characterisation’ and ‘communicative’ add to the picture. After Tchaikovsky’s Was I not a little blade of grass (tr. 9) I wrote: ‘The ability to express intense feeling even when singing pianissimo is more or less the essence of and the secret behind the art of song interpretation. Eva Podleś has that ability in abundance.’ Sometimes the intensity is so strong that one wonders if she doesn’t crosses the border from interpretation to being part of the song. The Field-Marshal, the last of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, is a song that invariably brings down the house. It does so here too, but only after a very long silence where one couldn’t even hear the proverbial pin drop. The whole audience was obviously so caught by her identification that even the greatest enthusiasts had to hold back the applause for a while.
The Polish-Russian programme is cleverly arranged. Garrick Ohlsson bridges the three melodists Chopin-Rachmaninov-Tchaikovsky and the expressionist Mussorgsky by playing the impressionist Szymanowski’s Masques. No one with a basic knowledge of the 19th century classics could fail to recognise Chopin in the opening song, There where she loves. (I employ the English titles throughout to make it easier for those who are not Slavists.) It’s a charming waltz in his inimitable style and when we reach the postlude we really feel at home. The ring (tr. 2) is also a slow waltz while the stormy The warrior (tr. 3) gives ample opportunities for Podleś to display her dramatic potential. The Lithuanian song (tr. 4) is a gem, if ever there was one, and in Handsome lad (tr. 5) Ms Podleś is at her fruitiest. Ohlsson excels in the prelude, interlude and postlude. After all his international career was catapulted forward through his victory in the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition. It’s a pity that Chopin’s songs are still such rarities on recital programmes and recordings.
Rachmaninov is a more frequent visitor to the concert platform, now that so many international singers are more or less fluent in Russian. This is not to say that every Tom, Dick and Harry knows each and every one of the 85 songs he wrote between 1890 and 1917 but there is a fair number that return quite often. The complete songs recorded on Chandos in the early 1990s is available at super-budget price on Brilliant Classics (see review). The three songs on the present disc are sung with an intensity to challenge even Elisabeth Söderström’s classic readings from the late 1970s. There is something inevitably right about the singing of Eva Podleś – nothing superficial or showy, coming from within and not superimposed.
In the Tchaikovsky songs it is again Söderström who comes to mind but Podleś has nothing to fear from the comparison. I have already touched upon Was I not a little blade of grass and the hackneyed None but the lonely heart (tr. 10) is transformed and ennobled in her reading. On this issue the title is given as No, only one who knows longing, which is a literally more correct translation of Lev Mey’s Russian interpretation of Goethe’s poem. The Pushkin setting Zemfira’s song is again Eva Podleś at her most intense.
Karol Szymanowski’s Masques lays claim to be one of his finest creations and Garrick Ohlsson is a superb advocate. The first movement, Shéhérazade, is built around a habanera theme that dominates the last part of this long movement. There are however no oriental associations. The second movement Tantris le bouffon has references to the Tristan und Isolde story – ‘Tantris’ being an anagram of ‘Tristan’. These are literary references only since there is no musical connections with or quotations from Wagner. ‘Tantris the jester’ was obviously chosen as the title of the scherzo in this composition. The lively rhythms, played with stunning precision, seem to illustrate the jester’s caprices – and the habanera appears briefly here too. As connecting link for the whole composition it returns still one more time at the end of Sérénade de Don Juan, and here it is certainly on home-ground – the atmosphere of this movement is tangibly Spanish. Whether Szymanowski’s meeting Ravel and Debussy in Paris on his way back from Italy in 1914 inspired him to the musical language of Masques may be open to debate but few others have written such brilliant piano music in their mould. Having heard no other recording of Masques – though I am familiar with his symphonies, string quartets, some other piano works and his vocal output – I may be talking through my hat, but I can’t imagine it better played.
The Songs and Dances of Death has been primarily male territory. I have isolated songs or the complete cycle with basses like Chaliapin, Christoff, Kim Borg and Erik Saedén and baritones like Hvorostovsky and Tom Krause, to name some favourites. To this list must now be added Eva Podleś. Her way of bringing out the moods and the feelings through verbal inflexion and vocal colouring could be likened to great theatre, provided one doesn’t connect theatre with artificiality. This is as far from artificiality as could be imagined. The overriding impression is that everything is from the singer’s own experience. This feeling can be achieved through great theatre, but I would prefer to call it great art. Just one detail to prove my point: the way her voice in Trepak loses its lustre, not because of exhaustion but because Death is there in front of the singer. Great art indeed. This judgement also applies to Garrick Ohlsson’s flexible and assured playing, whether as accompanist or soloist.
There is only one thing about this recital that bothers me and that’s the sound. Or rather: there is a metallic edginess that afflicts the voice, like an extra layer. I have not been able to identify the reason. My first thought was that there was something wrong with my loudspeakers but listening through headphones gave the same result. To ensure that my CD-player was not at fault I played a couple of other discs with strong emotional singing and they sounded OK. Either there are some unfortunate mechanical resonances that have been amplified or the microphones have caught some wear on the voice. I hope it is the former. This apart the disc has to be ranked as one the finest and most captivating song recitals for a long time.
Göran Forsling


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