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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo); Julius Drake (piano)
rec. Champs Hill, Pulborough, England, 5-7 July 2008
Transliterated sung texts and English translations enclosed.
ONYX 4034 [63:16]

Experience Classicsonline

1. Sret’ shumnava bala (At the ball) Op. 38 No. 3 [2:33]
2. Net, tol’ka tot, kto znal (None but the lonely heart) OP. 6 No. 6 [3:30]
3. Kak nad garjacheju zaloj (Over burning ashes) Op. 25 No. 2 [1:47]
4. Moj genij, moj angel, moj druk! (My genius, my angel, my friend!) [1:55]
5. Kolybel’naja pesnja (Lullaby) Op. 16 No. 1 [3:18]
6. Primiren’je (Reconciliation) Op. 25 No. 1 [5:17]
7. Zakatilas’ sontse (The sun has set) Op. 73 No. 4 [1:41]
8. Strashnaja minuta (The fearful moment) Op. 28 No. 6 [3:35]
9. Nam zvjozdy krotkije sijali (Mild stars looked down) Op. 60 No. 12 [3:26]
10. Kaby znala ja (Had I only known) Op. 49 No. 1 [4:00]
11. Uzh gasli f komnatakh agni (The lights were being dimmed) Op. 63 No. 5 [2:46]
12. Ni slova, a druk moj (Not a word, my friend) Op. 6 No. 2 [3:06]
13. Atchevo? (Why?) Op. 6 No. 5 [2:56]
14. Ja li f pole da ne travushka byla (The bride’s lament) Op. 47 No. 7 [5:47]
15. Pesn’ Cyganki (The gypsy song) Op. 60 No. 7 [2:39]
16. Ne ver’, moj druk (Do not believe, my friend) Op. 6 No. 1 [3:57]
17. To byla ranneju vesnoj (It was in early spring) Op. 38 No. 2 [2:38]
18. Kukushka (Cuckoo) Op. 54 No. 8 [2:31]
19. Den’li tsarit (Can it be day?) Op. 47 No. 6 [3:19]
20. Snova, kak prezhde, adin (Again, as before, alone) Op. 73 No. 6 [2:15]


Last year reviewed the two latest instalments in the Naxos series of the complete Tchaikovsky songs. I was seriously disappointed. So it’s a great pleasure to receive this disc as a corrective. And not just as a corrective, since this is in fact the best disc with Tchaikovsky’s songs since Elisabeth Söderström’s collaboration with Vladimir Ashkenazy more than twenty-five years ago. They produced quite a number of memorable recordings, including also a substantial helping of Rachmaninov songs, which also have to be regarded as benchmark versions. Tchaikovsky’s songs have seen one or two comparable recordings, one of the most recommendable is a Hyperion disc with Joan Rodgers. I gather that CD is being reissued in the Helios series. Whatever the merits of that issue, of which I have heard only a couple of excerpts, it would have to be very good indeed to challenge the present disc with Christianne Stotijn. Though her Russian seems impeccable to my non-Slavonic ears she is Dutch. I have had reason to praise her on a couple of previous occasions, most substantially her Mahler recital that arrived  a little over a year ago (review).

The largely melancholy world of Tchaikovsky seems to suit Ms Stotijn to perfection. She radiates warmth and has beautiful tone. Her quick vibrato, which is perfectly controlled, adds personality. Moreover, and this is most important for a singer of romances, her phrasing is unerringly musical and sensitive. She opens the recital with two of the most well-known Tchaikovsky songs. In At the ball all the aforementioned characteristics are in clear evidence. None but the lonely heart, sung and recorded by almost every singer of some importance – and not only by artists in the classical trade – is even better. Julius Drake’s superb introduction is in itself almost worth the price of the disc. Stotijn is wonderfully inward and concentrated. I can’t remember hearing a finer reading ever.

The positive impressions of these two songs remain throughout the programme and are even enhanced. Drake is certainly one of today’s foremost accompanists, flexible and sensitive. His playing in the dramatic and intense Over burning ashes is magnificent. He is a pillar of strength throughout the disc. Regarding Christianne Stotijn, her real strength is that she neither sentimentalizes the songs nor invests them with more dramatic gestures than they can hold. After all these songs – at least most of them – are lyrical miniatures and actually grow in stature when sung inwardly. Some of the most ravishing examples of this aspect are the intimate My genius, my angel, my friend and Lullaby. Especially in the latter it is remarkable how skilfully Stotijn lightens her rather voluminous voice and caresses the melody with beautiful pianissimo singing. At the other end of the spectrum is Had I only known: intense, emotionally charged and still subtly nuanced. This is the song I will return to most often in the future but I am sure I will be tempted to play the rest of the recital as well, once I have started listening. In a more light-hearted mood Cuckoo, one of Elisabeth Söderström’s favourite songs, is another real hit.

With this disc Christianne Stotijn takes a big leap from ‘utterly promising’ to ‘near the top of the trade’. I will be eagerly awaiting her future excursions in the song literature – why not a sequel to this one? There are enough gems among Tchaikovsky’s songs to fill a volume two. In the meantime the present disc should be savoured by all lovers of good song interpretation.

Göran Forsling




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