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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Complete Songs - Volume 5
I will never name her [3:36]
6 French Songs, Op. 65
Serenade [2:06] Disillusionment [3:14] Serenade [3:23] Let the winter… [2:58] Tears [3:00] Enchantress [1:28]
Oh, if you could, Op. 38, No. 4 [3:00]
No reply, no word, no greeting, Op. 28, No. 5 [1:28]
New Greek song, Op. 16, No. 6 [1:43]
My mischief, Op. 27, No. 6 [2:30]
Love of a dead man, Op. 38, No. 5 [3:52]
You were in my dream [2:32]
Oh no, do not love me for my beauty [4:09]
Hamlet, Op. 67a (excerpts)
Ophelia's 1st scene [2:53] Ophelia's 2nd scene [1:56] Grave-digger’s song [3:12]
Hear at least once, Op. 16, No. 3 [2:42]
I never spoke to her, Op.25, No. 5 [1:20]
Before sleep, Op.27, No. 1 [2:01]
Look: there is a silver cloud, Op. 27, No. 2 [4:39]
Had my mother borne me, Op. 27, No. 5 [3:29]
A string of corals, Op. 28, No. 2 [5:08]
Don Juan's serenade, Op.38, No. 1 [3:05]
Ljuba Kazarnovskaya (soprano)
Ljuba Orfenova ( piano)
rec. 4-6 June 2006, Small Hall, Moscow Conservatory, Moscow. Transliterated song texts available online
NAXOS 8.570438 [69:24]
Experience Classicsonline

Tchaikovsky wrote more than a hundred songs – 103 to be exact – yet they are nowhere near as popular as his ballets and orchestral works. As usual Naxos hope to address this with their five-volume series from the two Ljubas, Kazarnovskaya and Orfenova. Volumes 2 and 3 have already been reviewed by Colin Clarke and Terry Barfoot respectively.
I must confess that the very first song, ‘I will never name her’, made the worst possible impression. The piano sounds reasonably well recorded but if you’re allergic to vibrato you may as well stop reading now. Frankly I couldn’t believe my ears; Kazarnovskaya, whose biography lists plenty of accomplishments and awards, has an uncontrollable wobble that is very, very distressing to listen to. Not only that, she often scoops at the notes as well.
And if that weren’t off-putting enough there are several points in this recording where it sounds as if the singer has temporarily decamped to another room; just listen to 00:40 on track 2, where the aural perspective suddenly changes This is very noticeable, not a minor editing glitch that most listeners would be happy to live with. And it happens again, this time at 2:01 in ‘Had my mother borne me’ (track 22). Perhaps forgivable on an old Soviet-era recording but not on a modern one made just two years ago.
But that’s a relatively minor issue compared with Kazarnovskaya’s vocal difficulties. I can’t say whether this is typical – although Colin Clarke’s review hints at some potential problems – but what I can say is sample any track here and you’ll realise the seriousness of the problem. There is no warmth, no middle register and at 00:29 in ‘Tears’ (track 6) you will hear some of the ugliest singing imaginable.
In ‘Love of a dead man’ (track 12) Kazarnovskaya momentarily drops to a huskier register before returning to her usual histrionic style. On the stage this would be described – charitably – as ‘hamming it’. And the vocal line is compromised at every turn by odd phrasing and awkward gear changes. Strange for a singer schooled in the bel canto style, but then it could just be vocal wear and tear.
In 1891 Tchaikovsky was pressed into providing incidental music for a performance of Hamlet in St Petersburg and perhaps his lack of enthusiasm shows in the quality of the piano writing. But the music is the least of our worries, with Ophelia’s two songs marred not just by excessive vibrato but by squalling under pressure. ‘Before sleep’ (track 22) may start more promisingly – it’s certainly more muted – but there’s a curious lower-register smokiness more suited to a cabaret act than a concert platform. Bizarre.
And just in case you’re tempted to think this cloud has a silver lining just sample ‘Look: there is a silver cloud’ (track 21). It’s clear that that even at the bottom of her range Kazarnovskaya is unable to shade and colour her voice at all, surely a grievous omission for anyone attempting such emotionally diverse  repertoire.
In the past I’ve grumbled about some Naxos releases but in the main I have welcomed many of their more enterprising releases. There have been recording issues as well but here the acoustic is pleasing enough and Orfenova plays with character and flair. No, it’s Kazarnovskaya’s voice that’s at issue here, making this a dreadfully disappointing climax to an otherwise important series.
Perplexing. Frustrating. One to avoid at all costs.
Dan Morgan

see also review by Göran Forsling



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