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Pushkin Romances
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
1. Priznanie (Confession) [0:51]
2. Adel' (Adèle) [2:41]
3. Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Do not sing to me, fair maiden) [1:00]
4. Ya pomnyu chudnoe mgnoven'e (I remember the wonderful moment) [3:14]
5. Ya zdes', Inezil'ya (It's me, Iñesilla) [2:04]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
6. Redeyet oblakov letuchaya gryada, Op.42 No.3 (A line of flying clouds) [3:15]
7. Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne, Op.51 No.2 (Do not sing to me, fair maiden) [2:31]
8. Chto v imeni tebe moyem?, Op.4 No.1 (What does my name mean to you?) [1:36]
9. Na kholmah Gruzii, Op.3 No.4 (The hills of Georgia) [1:43]
10. Moy golos dlya tebya, Op.7 No.1 (My voice, calling you) [1:31]
11. Ekho, Op.45 No.1 (Echo) [1:33]
12. Tï i vï, Op.27 No.3 ('You' and 'thou') [0:49]
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1851)
13. Muza, Op.29 No.1 (The muse) [3:06]
14. Roza, Op.29 No.6 (The rose) [2:08]
15. Lish' rozï uvyadayut, Op.36 No.3 (When roses wither) [1:55]
16. Vals, Op.32 No.5 (The waltz) [2:55]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
17. Pevets, Op.36 No.7 (The singer) [2:26]
18. Noch', Op.44 No.1a (Night) [2:48]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
19. Pesn' Zemfiry (Zemfira's song) [2:10]
20. Solovey, Op.60 No.4 (The nightingale) [2:56]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
21. Noch' (Night) [4:25]
22. Strekotun'ya beloboka (The magpie) [2:08]
Aleksandr DARGOMÏZHSKY (1813-1869)
23. K druz'yam (To friends) [2:09]
24. Yunosha i deva (A boy and a girl) [1:02]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
25. Yunoshu, gor'ko rydaya, Op.46 No.2 (A girl, sobbing bitterly) [1:31]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
26. Muza, Op.46 No.2 (The muse) [4:27]
27. Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne, Op.4 No.4 (Do not sing to me, fair maiden) [4:36]
César CUI (1835-1918)
28. Tsarskoselskaya statuya, Op.57 No.17 (The statue at Tsarskoye Selo) [1:00]
29. Tï i vï, Op.57 No.11 ('You' and 'thou') [0:53]
30. Zhelaniye, Op.57 No.25 (Desire) [1:49]
Vladimir VLASOV (1903-1986)
31. Fontanu Bakhchisarayskogo dvortsa (To the fountain of Bakhchisaray Palace) [3:28]
Joan Rodgers (soprano); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. January 2009, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London
Texts included (Russian + English translation)
HYPERION CDA67773 [73:09]
Experience Classicsonline

Here is another disc of Russian songs from Joan Rodgers, and what a fine disc it is!

In the classical Russian culture, Pushkin is Shakespeare. He is Cervantes. He is Goethe and Schiller in one. He is universally loved. So, understandably, many fine Russian composers have set his poetry to music - each one in his unique style, but each one with sincere devotion. The majority of presented composers, by the way, also based operas on his works. So, the program on this disc, besides the pure technical property of using only Pushkin's texts (OK, for some reason one poem is by his friend Delvig - yes, that one from Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony) has another unifying trait, on a higher level. This trait is the deep respect, love and care reflected in trying to set these gems in the best golden frames.

The poems themselves range from pure trifles and album leaves (like Adèle or The singer) to the heights of lyrical poetry (such as The hills of Georgia or My voice for you). Pushkin's verses are not flawless: being practically the first really grand-scale Russian poet, he could bathe in what was almost forbidden to later generations. There are clichés, but only because he invented them. The rhyming is often predictable, as nezhnyj almost surely leads to myatezhnyj, radost' to mladost', tyomnyj to tomnyj etc. But this simplicity is akin to the deceptive simplicity of Mozart's sonatas: a lot is said in few words.

Some of the sources are inevitably repeated: three poems have two settings each, and two poems are presented in three skins. Also, you'll hear verses you might know from "Onegin" and "Aleko". But the versions are so different, that what you get is practically a gallery of portraits of different composers, like a backward projection. What fun it is to hear side by side A boy and a girl by Dargomïzhsky and Shostakovich: the first quite a grand romance, the second so descriptive, you can almost restore the narrative from the music alone!

At least three of the romances, in my opinion, belong to the Hall of Fame of art-songs of all times and nations. These are Glinka's I remember the wonderful moment, Rachmaninov's Do not sing to me, and The fountain of Bakhchisaray by the little-known Vladimir Vlasov. Someone said once that the melody of I remember the wonderful moment was not composed by Glinka: it always existed in the ether, he just snatched it out. I think the same can be said about the other two songs. It is also a rare pleasure to hear romances by Rimsky-Korsakov, as if extracted from his operas; it shows how songful his operas are. And César Cui - where else can you find this elusive Fifth Element of the Mighty Five? Medtner, as usual, is way too serious and misses all Pushkin's humour in The rose; his Muse is probably not to everyone's taste; but The waltz is pretty much amazing. Lesser known Anton Rubinstein is well inside the Russian Romantic tradition, and I bet that out of the three versions of The Night ("My voice for you") on this disc it will be his one that you'll remember the most. Although all the nuts and bolts that he uses look familiar, they are put together very well.

This is a generous recital: it's 73 minutes, with 31 songs! Yet it never becomes boring, which says a lot about the performers. I commend the wise ordering decision. The disc starts with Pushkin's younger friend Glinka, and goes more or less chronologically to mid-XX century. However, the monotony of style is broken by moving Medtner and Shostakovich in between earlier composers.

Joan Rodgers’ singing is magnificent. She has a beautiful voice, which is never thin or dry, and is equally powerful in all registers. I am rather tolerant to vibrato, but I think that even the biggest vibrato-bashers will agree that her control over it is perfect. When the music requires being loud, her voice does not lose its beauty, never becoming shrill or unpleasant. There is probably only one moment where I hear a strain in the voice, and this is in the last song, but this is really negligible. Her approach is not operatic, yet has all the dramatic intensity. Also, her Russian pronunciation is almost perfect: a little more work on the soft consonants, and nobody will discern her from a native speaker. All these bya, tya, sya ("uzh niet li sopiernika zdies'?") are not diphthongs! And she should check better the sources of the lyrics (K okoshku prives', not privyoz! It changes all the meaning!) But all this can be forgotten when she sings with such devotion, such involvement, such beauty of tone.

Malcolm Martineau, as usual, is sensitive and supportive. He doesn't have to work extra hard here: most composers - except probably Medtner and Rachmaninov - provided light frames, not heavy tableaux. However, even this can be done well or poorly, and Martineau's frames are of purest gold. The piano never overpowers the voice. I think that it was deliberately a bit subdued, which suits well the intimate spirit of a song recital.

The accompanying booklet has full texts of all songs, in transliterated Russian and in good (though not 100% correct) English translation. Excellent liner-notes in English, French and German are by Andrew Huth. They tell about the poet, the composers and the historical circumstances of the song settings. The recording is clear and conveys the impression of the position of performers in space.

Summarizing, I can't think of a better way to present this program. A wonderful disc, indeed, for many happy returns.

Oleg Ledeniov
 
 


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