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Galina Vishnevskaya. Songs and operatic arias
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

1. Hopak
2. Lullaby
3. Darling Savishna
4-7 Songs and Dances of Death (orch. SHOSTAKOVICH)
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

8. The rose and the nightingale op.2 no.2
9. The heavy clouds disperse, op.12 no.3
10. More sonorous than the lark’s singing, op.43 no.1
11. Lullaby of the Sea Princess (Sadko)
12. Marfa’s scene and aria (The Tsar’s Bride)
13. Lyubasha’s aria (The Tsar’s Bride)
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

14. Lel’s song (The Snow Maiden)
15. Was I not a little blade of grass? Op.47 no.7
16. Cradle Song op.16 no.1
17. Why? Op.6 no.2
18. Amid the din of the ball, op.38 no.3
19.Again, as before, alone, op.73 no.6
Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano
Mstislav Rostropovich, piano (tracks 1-3, 8-10 and 15-19), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Rostropovich (tracks 4-7 and 11-14)
Recorded 11th Sept. 1975, Abbey Rd. Studio no.1 (1-3)26th-27th October 1976, Kingsway Hall, London (4-7 and 11-14), 19th -21st June 1978, Abbey Rd. Studio no.1 (8-10), 2nd-3rd January 1975, Evangelisches Gemeindehaus, Berlin-Zehlendorf (15-19)

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Undoubtedly one of the great voices, and one of the great singers of the past century. Vishnevskaya’s voice may not be to every taste – it would be surprising if it was, as it is so strongly individual in timbre – but no-one with ears to hear could miss the instinctive musicality and powerful dramatic force of her interpretations.

She was (now in her late 70s, her days of public singing are sadly over) also a great stylist; if you want to hear Russian music sung as it should be sung, then you need look no further. This fine collection demonstrates this convincingly, despite the fact that she hated the recording studio. It is a tribute to her that she has managed to overcome that hatred and to inject a sense of the live performance into these recorded tracks.

There are drawbacks; sometimes the tone deteriorates as she tires; sometimes the intonation is, to say the least, suspect; sometimes the rubato confounds even the attentive ears of husband and accompanist (piano and orchestra) Mstislav Rostropovich. These however are infrequent negatives that are overwhelmingly outweighed by the positives.

She begins with a Mussorgsky group, consisting of a wild Hopak, a haunting Lullaby and the imperious Darling Savishna. Then come the great Songs and Dances of Death, orchestrated by Vishnevskaya’s close friend Shostakovich. She gives an immensely powerful reading of these, and Rostropovich and the LSO bring out the wonderful colours of Shostakovich’s scoring. The first three are superb; in the macabre fourth, The Field-Marshal, however, she seems to strain her voice beyond its remarkable resources in her almost frenzied representation of the story. Some will find this compelling; I found it spilled over into melodrama.

The very finest singing is to be found in the Rimsky-Korsakov numbers. There is a particularly overwhelming moment in the first of these, The Rose and the Nightingale. The piano begins, with a winding, oriental melody, after which the voice follows with its two short, simple stanzas. But in the coda, the piano’s opening phrases re-appear at the top of the soprano range – an outpouring of vocal sound which really does seem supernatural in its beauty. The three items from Rimsky operas are of equal quality, particularly the ‘Lullaby of the Sea Princess’ from Sadko, while the arias from The Tsar’s Bride remind us that this opera is a special love of Vishnevskaya’s, and occasioned her only attempt at opera production.

There is an undoubted drop in the emotional temperature for the group of Tchaikovsky songs, but no drop in artistry or involvement. After the somewhat bumpy ride of the previous tracks, it is good to be reminded that Vishnevskaya could spin a wonderfully sustained and restrained line. She was a highly disciplined, cultured artist as well as, when required, an emotional firebrand.

Despite the occasional lapses, the fact is that she was incapable of producing a boring or disengaged note, and that the best singing here is, quite simply, very great.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

See also book review Galina by Len Mullenger

Great Recordings of the Century
Vishnevskaya was incapable of producing a boring or disengaged note ... the best singing here is, quite simply, very great. ... see Full Review

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