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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Complete Songs - Volume 4
1. They said: You fool, do not go, Op. 25, No. 6 [2:05]
2. No time to take a walk [3:06]
3. Last night, Op. 60, No. 1 [2:52]
4. I don’t tell you anything, Op. 60, No. 2 [2:31]
5. Excuse me, Op. 60, No. 8 [3:11]
6. In the shadow outside the window, Op. 60, No. 10 [1:46]
7. Night, Op. 60, No. 9 [4:04]
8. Nightingale, Op. 60, No. 4 [3:42]
9. Simple Words, Op. 60, No. 5 [2:35]
10. For one simple word [1:49]
11. Canary, Op. 25, No. 4 [3:59]
12. The eyes of spring are blue [2:59]
13. So what can I say?, Op. 16, No. 5 [3:13]
14. Oh, if only you knew, Op. 60, No. 3 [2:25]
15. Oh, sing that song, Op. 16, No. 4 [2:57]
16. Reconciliation, Op. 25, No. 1 [5:43]
17. I bless you, woods, Op. 47, No. 5 [4:19]
18. Evening, Op. 27, No. 4 [2:23]
19. It was in early spring, Op. 38, No. 2 [2:43]
20. Amid the din of the ball, Op. 38, No. 3 [2:28]
21. The exploit, Op. 60, No. 11 [3:32]
22. Mignon’s Song, Op. 25, No. 3 [4:56]
Ljuba Kazarnovskaya (soprano), Ljuba Orfenova (piano)
rec. Small Hall, Moscow Conservatory, 4, 9, 12 December 2005
Transliterated sung texts and English translations at Naxos website
NAXOS 8.570409 [69:15]
Experience Classicsonline

This series of Tchaikovsky’s complete songs has been long in the making. The first three volumes arrived in the late 1990s and early 2000s but since then there has been a gap of almost seven years. I hadn’t heard the previous issues and was eagerly looking forward to savouring these twenty-two songs, few of them very well-known. Tchaikovsky wrote more than one hundred songs and only a handful can be regarded as standards. The musical level is constantly high, even though he is much more limited in scope than, say, Schubert, Schumann or Brahms. Just as in his operas he is more melancholy-lyrical than truly dramatic, but within this mood-area he has created a number of songs that are truly satisfying. The bulk of the songs here are from his Op. 60, published in the late 1880s, and among the best are the lively In the shadow outside the window (tr. 6), the beautiful Night (tr. 7) and Simple Words (tr. 9) in ¾ time. But all these songs have something to offer, none more so than the light Amid the din of the ball (tr. 20), which was also one of Nicolai Gedda’s favourites.
For repertoire alone this disc is a treasure-chest and I am sure many readers previously unfamiliar with the songs will be able to make new musical friends. When it comes to the interpretation – or rather the singing – I am less sure. I make this distinction, since interpretation is the artist’s way of conveying the message, the textual content, through shading, inflexion and enunciation, while singing is a more technical conception: the voice production, which includes beauty of tone, legato, vibrato and other features that a singer learns during basic training.
As an interpreter Ljuba Kazarnovskaya has a lot to offer. There is no doubt that she has insights in the various sentiments of the songs and she is expressive and phrases sensitively, through variations in tone colour. She is also greatly helped by her excellent accompanist Ljuba Orfenova to carry the message to the listener. The problem, and this is a serious problem, is the actual singing. I had thought that the Slavonic wobble was a thing of the past, but here it is in all its glory. There is hardly a steady note, the tone at forte is hard and grating on the ear and she sounds decidedly worn – exactly that rasping sound that often afflicts none too old singers who have been singing too much and too heavy too early in the career. There are songs when this is less prominent. In Canary (tr. 11) she scales down to a thinner, more girlish tone, and Amid the din of the ball (tr. 20) is sensitively sung; this is possibly the best reading on this disc.
I’m sorry to be so negative, but there was very little here that I derived any pleasure at all from – as pure singing. Since I hadn’t heard the earlier volumes I looked up some reviews, which were rather positive, but this was around the turn of the century - seven years is a long time for a singer in obvious decline. Moreover there were some reactions even then concerning excessive vibrato and hardness of tone.
Readers in doubt should sample a few tracks on the Naxos website, where it is possible to have a free subscription which means that one can listen to the first 25% of each track.
So what do I recommend instead? In an ideal world Elisabeth Söderström’s recordings with the superb Ashkenazy at the piano should always be available. They recorded 36 songs on two LPs around 1980 and the majority of the songs were transferred to one CD in the mid-1990s. However it has been deleted and I urge Decca to correct this fatal mistake as soon as possible. There we have one of the most communicative singers in the world, moreover Russian on her mother’s side. In spite of being well past 50, her voice was caught in mint condition, absolutely steady, apart from that charming and characteristic flutter, silvery and youthful. I got out the disc just to listen to a couple of the songs for comparison but ended up playing it from beginning to end.
Joan Rodgers recorded another collection for Hyperion in the early 1990s, which is still available. Even though it isn’t in the Söderström class it is worth owning. However, for the complete songs it seems that Kazarnovskaya is the only option. Volume 5 is on the release list for March.
Göran Forsling


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