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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
Complete Songs
Joan Rodgers (soprano) Maria Popescu (mezzo) Alexandre Naoumenko (tenor) Sergei Leiferkus (bass)
Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. St. Michael’s Church, Highgate, London. 1994-95. DDD
Russian texts enclosed. Translations available at this site  
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 8531 [3 CDs: 76:01 + 71:54 + 68:00]
Experience Classicsonline

In the mid-1990s Chandos produced a 3 CD complete cycle of the Rachmaninov songs: CHAN9405, CHAN9451, CHAN9477. This involved four singers, Joan Rodgers (soprano), Alexandre Naoumenko (tenor), Maria Popescu (mezzo) and Sergei Leiferkus (baritone) with Howard Shelley (piano). They supplemented this cycle with individual discs by: Sergei Larin (tenor) and Eleonora Bekova (piano) (CHAN9562) and Sergei Leiferkus (CHAN9374). Tracks from the latter disc feature on this three volume set.
All credit then to Brilliant and Chandos for striking an accommodation over issuing the threee original CDs as a set.
Let me refer you to the fine reviews of this set by Göran Forsling and Jonathan Woolf and add a few observations of my own.
Rachmaninov's 85 songs span the years 1890-1917. He stopped writing art-songs after departing Europe for the USA. Nevertheless he wrote them during his most numerically productive period and they span about half his musically creative lifetime.
I am sure that the individual Chandos discs can still be tracked down or can be downloaded from the in MP3 or lossless format. However the present bargain basement CD set is probably as inexpensive as these recordings are ever going to get.
As far as I can recall Chandos never issued all three CDs in a boxed set so this is also a compact way of having truly stylish and authentic performances of all 85 Rachmaninov songs.
The songs are laid out in opus number/chronological order with eight unopussed songs followed by those in opp. 4, 8, 14, 21, 26, 34 and 38. A handful of later unopussed songs start CD2 and start and end CD3.
The downside is that the only documentation is a booklet with all of the transliterated Russian texts but no translations. For these we are directed to Fair enough at the price and perhaps this was also at the insistence of Chandos to differentiate Brilliant from their own de luxe product where every last attention is paid to that sort of detail in the booklets. You might, on that front, like to try to access the booklets via the Chandos website: vol. 1; vol. 3. You could probably print those off without charge although I am not sure that all three can be accessed in that way.
Another downside to Brilliant’s presentation is that we are not told who sings which song. There is, it is true, one singer for each of the four registers but it would have been nice to have been told directly who sings each song. I also noted a strange typo: the numbering of the contents list for CD3 proceeds 17, 18, 19, 29, 21, 22, 23 ....
There have been other cycles of the Rachmaninov songs. This one has the edge over the Decca (Söderström - Decca London 436 920-2, recorded 1974-75) and the Boheme (Natalia Suckova) because of the rich variety of voices deployed - one voice for each vocal register and every one of the singers is of intelligent and sensitive merit.
This sensitivity is heard right from the start with Leiferkus's grainy and slightly trembling sepulchral bass in At the gates of the holy cloister - so mature a song so young. The poised carillon of Oh, my field tills the soil as if it were one of Housman's fields in Naoumenko's passionate delivery. I rather like Maria Popescu's mezzo. It does not sound as matronly as some. There is something of the girl in it yet. This benefits a song like There are many sounds with its fateful drumming. Rachmaninov's endlessly inventive faculties are forcefully driven home in Christ is Risen - again with Popescu. Night is Sorrowful - a very apt title for this composer - is taken by Rodgers who has a slight tendency towards warbling but my how tenderly this is done. The Storm is the third song of op. 34 and the most rhetorical. Naoumenko acts this as if it were an opera. Vivid or what! He can do gentle too - as we hear in the lilting and feathery I remember this day. The riches are deep and resilient here. Fascinating to re-discover the song Dissonance with its rumbling gruff downward motif for the piano.
Let me again repeat my encouragement to the record companies to tackle in the same thorough way as Chandos have the complete songs of Medtner, C.W. Orr and Michael Head. There are real treasures there. Meantime do not miss out on this wonderful collection - its value vastly exceeds its price.
Rob Barnett

see also reviews by Göran Forsling and Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
CD 1
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]
CD 2
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]
CD 3
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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