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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
1. Last night was so bright, Op. 60 No. 1 [2:29]
2. To forget so soon (1870) [2:44]
3. The nightingale, Op. 60 No. 4 [3:10]
4. It was in early spring, Op. 38 No. 2 [2:01]
5. At the ball, Op. 38 No. 3 [2:14]
6. The fearful minute, Op. 28 No. 6 [3:19]
7. Do not believe me, Op. 6 No. 1 [3:38]
8. The cuckoo, Op. 54 No. 8 [2:10]
9. I was a little blade of grass, Op. 47 No. 7 [5:43]
10. Cradle song, Op. 16 No. 1 [4:08]
11. At the window in the shadow, Op. 60 No. 10 [1:38]
12. Serenade, Op. 63 No. 6 [3:08]
13. The canary, Op. 25 No. 4 [3:15]
14. Not a word, my friend, Op. 6 No. 2 [2:30]
15. Lullaby in a storm, Op. 54 No. 10 [2:14]
16. Spring, Op. 54 No. 9 [1:58]
17. Why did I dream of you? Op. 28 No. 3 [2:50]
18. Only one who knows yearning, Op. 6 No. 6 [3:05]
19. By day or by night, Op. 47 No. 6 [3:28]
20. If only I had known, Op. 47 No. 1 [4:17]
21. Why? Op. 6 No. 5 [2:57]
Joan Rodgers (soprano); Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. 8-10 May 1992
Transliterated Russian texts and English translations enclosed


Experience Classicsonline

There have been several discs with Tchaikovsky songs coming my way lately. The last two volumes in the Naxos complete cycle with Ljuba Kazarnovskaya (Vol. 4 see review) and Vol. 5 see review) appeared about a year ago. Christianne Stotijn on Onyx was reviewed just a couple of months ago. There were also a good handful of his songs on Amanda Roocroft’s recent recital, also on Onyx (see review). Then came an all-Russian recital with Elena Kelessidi, a third Onyx offering (see review). Other singers have also included Tchaikovsky songs in their CD recitals. Of the discs mentioned above Kazarnovskaya was a disappointment while Stotijn confirmed her earlier good impression with singing of these songs to compare with that of Elisabeth Söderström. I mentioned in a couple of these reviews Joan Rodgers, from whose Tchaikovsky disc I had heard a couple of excerpts and didn’t feel fully comfortable with. Thus it was with some hesitation that I approached this reissue, especially since I had expressed some reservations about her singing on the recent Brilliant Classics set with the complete songs by Rachmaninov, originally issued on Chandos.

How wrong I was! Ms Rodgers has a rapid, characteristic vibrato, but it is well controlled and the tone is beautiful. She has dramatic power and a spine-chilling intensity that make the most of the outbursts in, for instance, the agitated ‘prayer’ To forget so soon (tr. 2). But the lyrical Nightingale (tr. 3) is equally well sung and in the well-known At the ball (tr. 5) she sings with exquisite lightness and airiness – it is as though she just makes the slightest contact with the ground in this melancholy waltz.

And so it is throughout the disc. The programme is discriminatingly chosen to achieve maximum contrast and still convey a feeling of unity. Joan Rodgers, supported by the ever reliable and flexible Roger Vignoles, is up to all the challenges. The emotions are mostly of the melancholy kind and they need some kind of East European vibrancy – I am not talking of the Slavonic wobble of bygone days. Rodgers, like Elisabeth Söderström, has those extra drops of lemon, without which the drink might be too sweet. Like Söderström her Russian is also, as far as I can judge, beyond reproof.

There is hardly any need to account for all my copious notes on the songs. They would make very repetitive reading. But it is worth noting that she also has the right feeling and temperament for the sparse scattering of light-hearted songs. The little children’s song The cuckoo (tr. 8) is sung with deep involvement and the repeated cuckoos at the end verge on the ecstatic. I was deeply moved by Eva Podles’ reading of I was a little blade of grass (tr. 9) at the Wigmore Hall recital, issued recently. Joan Rodgers is just as expressive – though not quite as formidable. There are riches aplenty here and it seems unfair to mention some songs and interpretations in preference to others that are equally good. That said, the beautiful and finely nuanced Serenade (tr. 12) must not be overlooked, nor the joyful Spring (tr. 16). I must also mention Why did I dream of you? (tr. 17), where there are echoes of Tatiana’s letter scene from Eugene Onegin - they actually share the same theme of unrequited love. Her reading of the better known Only one who knows yearning (tr. 18) can stand comparison with any other reading I have heard. The recital ends with two of the most emotional songs in Tchaikovsky’s oeuvre: If only I had known and Why?, each sung with tangible feeling.

Initially I thought the acoustic a bit swimmy, the voice being partially overpowered by the piano, but the ears soon adjusted and all in all this is a terribly attractive disc. My admiration for Elisabeth Söderström’s Tchaikovsky remains undiminished - on Decca but doesn’t seem to be available at the moment - but Stotijn and Rodgers are two superb alternatives and at Helios price Rodgers is irresistible.

Göran Forsling 


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