Collections of Russian art song can be touching and
sometimes inspirational experiences: try Hyperion's two discs of 'Russian
Images' on CDA67105 and CDA67205 for examples of how successful this
idea can be.
First issued in 2000 (see Christopher Howell's review),
Daniil Shtoda's appearance on EMI's 'Debut' series gave us a chance
to hear in recital an up-and-coming young singer from the Kirov. Certainly,
from the quote on the back cover of the reissue, the BBC Music Magazine
certainly liked it. I, however, find myself rather less inspired by
the experience. True, there are moments of great beauty on this CD,
matched equally by uncomfortable ones. Indeed, much of the disc confirms
the impression Shtoda gave at the Barbican in a performance of Rachmaninov's
'The Bells' under Svetlanov (see my review
on our 'Seen and Heard' section: ).
The largest group of songs is the selection of nine
by Tchaikovsky (constituting 25'04 of the total playing time). Placing
the Serenade, Op. 63 No. 6, first was surely a miscalculation: Gergieva's
accompaniment can only be described as bumpy, while Shtoda attempts
to be lyrical over it. In the second song, 'The Nightingale', Op. 60
No. 4, there are more hints at Gergieva's unsubtlety and the first hints
of strain from the tenor (a trait to recur periodically throughout the
disc). Strangely, moments of fluency (the piano accompaniments to Op.
26 No. 1 and Op. 38 No. 2, for example, the latter a completely natural
outpouring from both parties) and the capturing of the mood of a song
(eg the sad melancholy of Op. 73 No. 6) vie with vocal strain and a
total miscalculation of the final song of this Tchaikovsky set, 'Whether
day reigns', Op. 47 No. 6, where Gergieva's stodgy piano postlude completely
negates Shtoda's careful build-up in the earlier part of the song.
If the two Balakirev songs suffer from similar faults,
things pick up with the Rimsky-Korsakov set, in particular 'The fleeting
bank of cloud is dispersing', Op. 42 No. 3. Here Gergieva shows what
she can do: the sound is luminous, and it seems to encourage Shtoda's
lyrical mode. The evocative 'Rose and Nightingale' which follows, with
its oriental overtones, contains an effective wordless section towards
the end. The harmonies of 'The Nymph', Op. 56 No. 1, are particularly
The highlight of the Cui set is his Op. 57 No. 17 ('The
statue in Tsarskoye Selo'). Here the piano part is painted in almost
Impressionist colours. Saving the best of the performances until last,
the group of six Rachmaninov songs is marked by its expressive beauty
(it is probably no coincidence that the last track, 'Loneliness', Op.
21 No. 6, is one of the best performances on the disc).
A variable (albeit cheap) recital, then. Shtoda is
certainly worth watching, even if he did not quite deliver the goods
on this occasion.