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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Complete Songs

Full listing at end of review
Joan Rodgers (soprano), Maria Popescu (mezzo-soprano), Alexandre Naoumenko (tenor), Sergei Leiferkus (bass)
Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. St. Michael’s Church, Highgate, London 1994-95
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 8531 [3 CDs: 76:01 + 71:54 + 68:00]

Things couldn’t be handier for the enthusiast. A gatefold card opens to reveal three CDs and a single booklet, which contains a brief two-page introduction and the transliterated texts. For song translations we are guided to a website. Thus the eighty-five songs are cogently presented and at a bargain price.  You’ll doubtless be aware that these are, as they say in horse racing or violin circles, ex-Chandos recordings and were recorded in 1994 and 1995 on three discs in the somewhat resonant surroundings of St. Michael’s Church, Highgate.
Four singers undertook the honours  - Joan Rodgers, Maria Popescu, Alexandre Naoumenko and Sergei Leiferkus. At the piano we have that resonant and resilient Rachmaninoff specialist Howard Shelley. The voice distribution was accomplished with sensitive awareness and not only does it make for a varied recital but also each song or group of songs is apportioned to a particular singer and the choice feels right.
Many of the songs embrace the sonorous romance of their Russian texts. Nothing shall I say to you is a brief but cogent example of this melancholy trait in the composer’s settings. But it would be wrong to characterize the songs thus.  April! for example is a suitably verdant and ringing celebration, sung, as in the case of Dusk was falling, by the valiant tenor Alexandre Naoumenko. He’s a singer with rather Francophile vocal affiliations – a propensity to use the head voice and whose essentially light timbre is bolstered by some operatic heft when required. It’s a youthful, ardent instrument though one occasionally prone to strain at the top of the tessitura. Note though the ardour of his way with the intermittently Hahn-like Sing not, O lovely one. Where he does strain, as in The Storm, one feels sympathetic; it’s a tough song and his voice is not really suited to it.
Sergei Leiferkus has the nobility and gravitas for his election. He’s imposing and sonorous in In the silence of the secret night, the third of the Op.4 set. Fate is a perfect Leiferkus vehicle. Its gravity, its echoes of the motto theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and the dignified curve of its melody line are all brought out with balanced awareness by the bass. Even the rather salon romance of the Letter to K.S. Stanislavsky sounds right.
Joan Rodgers is a Russian recital specialist. Occasionally her voice can be rather lost in the recorded sound – no fault of hers, this, it’s an acoustical phenomenon. But that’s a rare occurrence. She sings with passionate conviction throughout. And her pleading, yearning declamation in I await you is just as impressive. The simplicity and grace of, say, To My Children are however equally within her grasp.
Mezzo Maria Popescu has a finely produced voice – it’s flexible and even of production. I have grown fond of sorrow is a moving song and it’s most movingly sung. She sounds intimately attuned not only to the melodic curve of the settings but also to the sometimes morose but more often introspective intimacy of her chosen settings. Hers are consistently successful performances. 
Shelley is an active agent throughout. He relishes those moments of soloistic asperity – and there are plenty – many reminiscent of the solo piano works. But he is beyond that a most sympathetic accompanist. Moments of overt humour are rare but there are some in The Pied Piper where Rodgers and Shelley gleefully explore the tripping avuncularity of the writing.
So, time for a conclusion. These decade-old recordings have stood the test of time. Certainly none of the voices – even Leiferkus’s – quite measures up to the greatest exemplars of the Russian vocal school in this kind of repertoire. But in their more equalized and equable way they present a laudably consonant front. Shelley is outstanding. The set is something of a steal.
Jonathan Woolf

Full Listing
At the gates of the holy cloister [3:04]
Nothing shall I say to you [1:49]
Again you are bestirred, my heart [2:09]
April! A festive day in the spring [2:04]
Dusk was falling [2:39]
Song of the disenchanted [2:59]
The flower died [3:19]
Do you remember the evening? [2:31]
O, no, I beg you, do not leave Op. 4, no. 1 (1890-93) [1:45]
Morning Op. 4, no. 2 (1890-93) [1:49]
In the silence of the secret night Op. 4, no. 3 (1890-93) [2:43]
Sing not, O lovely one Op. 4, no. 4 (1890-93) [4:20]
Oh, my field Op. 4, no. 5 (1890-93) [4:03]
It wasn't long ago, my friend Op. 4, no. 6 (1890-93) [1:49]
Water Lily Op. 8, no 1 (1893) [1:17]
My child, your beauty is that of a flower op 8, no. 2 (1893) [1:39]
Thoughts, reflection Op. 8, no. 3 (1893) [3:01]
I fell in love, to my sorrow Op. 8, no. 4 (1893) [2:19]
A dream Op. 8, no. 5 (1893)  [1:22]
Prayer Op. 8, no. 6 (1893)  [3:14]
I await you Op. 14, no 1 (1896) [1:46]
Small island Op. 14, no. 2 (1896)   [2:11]
How fleeting is delight in love Op. 14, no. 3 (1896)   [1:32]
I was with her Op. 14, no. 4 (1896)   [1:16]
Summer Nights Op. 14, no. 5 (1896)  [1:36]
You are so loved by all Op. 14, no. 6 (1896) [2:05]
Do not believe me, friend Op. 14, no. 7 (1896) [1:35]
Oh, do not grieve Op. 14, no. 8 (1896) [2:56]
She is as beautiful as midday Op. 14, no. 9 (1896) [2:35]
In my soul Op. 14, no. 10 (1896) [2:34]
Spring torrents Op. 14, no. 11(1896) [2:10]
It is time Op. 14, no. 12 (1896)  [1:33]
Were you hiccoughing, Natasha? [1:33]
Night [3:10]
Fate Op. 21, no. 1 (1902) [7:09]
By a fresh grave Op. 21, no. 2 (1902)  [1:47]
Twilight Op. 21, no. 3 (1902) [2:04]
They replied Op.21 no.4 (1902)   [1:45]
Lilacs Op. 21, no. 5 (1902) [1:59]
Fragment from A. Musset Op. 21, no. 6 (1902)  [1:53]
How peaceful Op. 21, no. 7 (1902) [2:07]
On the death of a siskin Op. 21, no. 8 (1902)   [2:29]
Melody Op. 21, no. 9 (1902)  [3:00]
Before the icon Op. 21, no. 10 (1902) [3:20]
I am not a prophet Op. 21, no. 11 (1902)  [1:29]
How pained I am Op. 21, no. 12 (1902) [1:45]
There are many sounds Op. 26. no 1 (1906) [2:28]
All was taken from me Op. 26, no. 2(1906)  [0:56]
We shall rest Op. 26, no. 3 (1906)  [2:13]
Two farewells Op. 26, no. 4 (1906)   [4:27]
Let us leave, my sweet Op. 26, no. 5 (1906)  [2:18]
Christ is risen Op.26 no.6 (1906)  [2:46]
To my children Op. 26, no. 7 (1906)  [3:28]
I beg for mercy Op. 26, no. 8 (1906) [1:12]
I am alone again Op. 26, no. 9 (1906) [1:46]
At my window Op. 26, no. 10 (1906) [2:54]
The fountain Op.26 no.11 (1906) [1:22]
Night is sorrowful Op. 26, no. 12 (1906) [2:20]
Yesterday we met Op. 26, no. 13 (1906)  [2:54]
The Ring Op. 26, no. 14 (1906)  [2:32]
All passes Op. 26, no. 15 (1906)   [2:32]
Letter to K.S. Stanislavsky [3:16]
The muse Op. 34, no. 1 (1912) [4:10]
In the soul of each of us Op. 34, no. 2 (1912)  [2:15]
The storm Op. 34, no. 3 (1912) [3:36]
A passing breeze Op. 34, no. 4 (1912)   [3:36]
Arion Op.34 no.5 (1912) [2:48]
The raising of lazarus Op. 34, no. 6 (1912) [2:14]
It cannot be Op. 34, no. 7 (1912) [1:35]
Music Op. 34, no. 8 (1912)  [2:23]
You knew hin Op. 34, no. 9 (1912)  [2:13]
I remember this day Op. 34, no. 10 (1912)   [1:33]
The herald Op. 34, no. 11 (1912)  [2:52]
What is happiness Op. 34, no. 12 (1912)  [2:12]
Dissonance Op. 34, no. 13 (1912)  [6:00]
Vocalise Op. 34, no. 14 (1912)   [6:04]
From the gospel of St. John [1:22]
At the night in my garden Op. 38, no. 1 (1916) [1:48]
To her Op. 38, no. 2 (1916) [2:50]
Daisies Op. 38, no. 3 (1916) [2:15]
The pied piper Op. 38, no. 4 (1916) [2:30]
Sleep Op. 38, no. 5 (1916)  [3:20]
'Au "Op. 38, no. 6 (1916)  [2:21]
A prayer [2:33]
All glory to God [1:58]



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