Koshetz’s name will always be bracketed with that of Rachmaninoff. They first
met in 1915 and their close relationship led to his accompanying
her on tour – the only singer he ever accompanied it would
seem. After their parting they both found their ways to America
though they never spoke again; a few letters were all that
passed between them. Koshetz was born in 1891 in Kiev and
both her parents were fine singers, her mother singing in
the Moscow Imperial Opera, her father internationally, though
tragedy stalked him when his voice began to fail and he committed
suicide at forty. She studied piano in the Conservatory in
Moscow with Safonov and composition with Taneyev, later pursuing
a singing career under her teacher the great Felia Litvinne.
She also rather daringly, though not inappropriately as an
operatic singer, took lessons from Stanislavsky.
Her emigration to America
came in 1920 and gradually she began to make a mark on the
local scene. Her heyday in America, North and South, was
the decade between 1924 and her retirement in 1934, when
she wound down her career. Recordings and films had followed
after her arrival as did a series of prestigious engagements.
But a restaurant venture in 1939 was a disaster. She died
had first recorded in Russia in 1913 and then again for Brunswick
in 1922. Nimbus concentrates on her complete electric recordings
which comprise two batches, for Victor in 1928 and 1929 and
for Schirmer in 1940. Collectors will know that Ward Marston
has transferred the Koshetz Edition, her complete recordings,
for Pearl. And Symposium has put out a single disc of selected
recordings on 1137.
earlier electrics are vibrant, powerful, intense and dramatic
without resorting to floridity or histrionic projection.
On her home territory she is highly impressive and she was
quite capable of simplicity as well – try the composer accompanied
Grechaninov songs. Her Ravel Kaddish makes a powerful
contrast to Madeline Grey’s recording; the Frenchwoman’s
poise contrasts with the Russian’s more opulent and operatic
intensity. Elli, Elli has a simply magnificent climax.
And yet there was another side to her. It’s speculated that
Ponce wrote Estrellita for her and we can clearly
hear how finely she can control her sound, how adeptly she
can winnow it down. Those Grechaninov songs really do exude
an affecting charm and where necessary a theatrically convincing
drama, though it should be noted that there has been transposition
from tenor arias! The Prince Igor and Sadko are superb examples
of her art, indeed essential recordings for the vocal enthusiast
her career had effectively ended she contracted to record
a 78 album of Rachmaninoff songs for Schirmer. The recordings
were not good even for the date – boxy, dry and unattractive
and they robbed the voice of its natural resonance. Nevertheless
if one gets past these admitted imperfections one listens
to a most important body of discs recorded by a singer whose
intimate relationship with composer cannot fail to be of
the highest significance. Her singing is rhythmically free
and the gradual deepening of the voice adds another layer
of melancholy to it. It’s inevitable that it should sometimes
come across as hard and unsatisfying, a corollary of the
recording and also maybe rusty usage. Her voice does sound
worn in To the Children but in compensation it’s also
highly expressive. Lilacs is subject to some real
metrical games, one of the examples of her often extreme
freedom in these songs. And yet here and throughout we hear
narrative singing of the most intense and rewarding kind.
electric discs don’t quite stretch to two CDs’ worth so we
also have the bulk – though not all – of the recordings made
by her slightly older soprano contemporary Odarka Trifonieva
Sprishevskaya. She recorded ten sides and Nimbus gives
us eight. The voice is lighter and more girlish in timbre
than Koshetz’s 1928/29 sides. There’s an unforced lyricism
to it that attracts one, with a penetrating tonal command.
It’s well equalized and shows sure theatrical awareness.
But she too has fire – listen to the extracts from The
Snow Maiden. And despite the rather distant, and decidedly
unimpressive orchestral support, she really makes something
of her Sadko Berceuse. These early electric Victors
were recorded contemporaneously with the Koshetz Victors
though in this case the company had to trudge to Manchuria
to do so - a large number of Russian musicians were based
there at the time including Lemeshev, Shushlin and Ina Bourskaya.
transfer system is controversial but I find the results here
most acceptable. There’s a degree of “spread” to the sound
and a sense of room acoustic, a by-product of their own aesthetic,
but one that doesn’t imply a loss of clarity. Symposium’s
transfer is at a slightly higher level, leading to a slightly
greater sense of immediacy but also greater surface noise.
Nimbus’s Schirmer album also sounds to have been in rather
better estate than the copies used by Symposium. Unfortunately
I’ve not had access to the Pearls for comparative purposes.
Bilgora’s notes are on the first class side, telling us a
great deal of detail about Koshetz and doing so with clarity.
Koshetz’s story on disc is a focused and compelling one;
you will need her acoustic Brunswicks to round out the picture,
for which you will invariably need the Pearl, but this conspectus
of her electrics is a most persuasive and finely executed
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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