Songs and Romances
CD 1
Mikhail GLINKA (1804 - 1857)
Adele (1849) [2:44]; Cradle Song [6:23]; The Gulf of Finland [2:49]; Gretchen’s Song [3:37]; Barcarolle (1840) [2:57]; Tell me why [2:46]; Sing not, thou beauty, in my presence [1:36]; I am here, Inezilya (1830) [1:47]
Alexander DARGOMIZHSKY (1813 - 1869)
The Sierra Nevada was swathed in mists [3:00]; The night zephyr stirs the air [3:48]; Prayer [2:37]; What is my name to you? [2:44]; Heavenly clouds [5:31]; The Girl and the Youth [1:09]; You did not come true! [3:02]; In the expanse of the heavens [2:36]; I am sorrowful [2:05]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 - 1881)
Kalistratushka (1864) [5:17]; The Vision (1877) [2:35]; Forgotten (1874) [1:58]; Softly the spirit flew up to heaven (1877) [2:39]; What are words of love to you? (1860) [1:43]; Gathering Mushrooms (1867) [1:28]
CD 2
Alexander BORODIN (1833 - 1887)
Why do you dawn so soon, o day? [2:54]; The Sleeping Princess (1867) [3:37]; Song of the Dark Forest [1:54]; The Sea Princess (1868) [2:53]; For the shores of a distant native land (1881) [3:59]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Night, op.60/9 (1886) [4:07]; Tell me what, in the shade of the branches, op.57/1 (1884) [3:54]; Lullaby in a storm, op.54/10 (1883) [2:29]; None but the lonely heart, op.6/6 (1869) [2:57]; To forget too soon (?1870) [3:17]; He loved me so much, op.28/4 [3:52]; Not a word, my friend, op.6/2 (1869) [3:29]; Frenzied Nights, op.60/6 (1886) [3:01]; The sun has set, op.73/4 (1893) [1:40]; Reconciliation, op.25/1 (1874) [5:37]; Serenade, op.65/1 (1888) [1:54]; Do not ask, op.57/3 (1884) [3:25]; Amid the din of the ball, op.38/3 (1878) [1:54]; Does the day reign? Op.47/6 [3:23]
Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Mstislav Rostropovich (piano)
rec. details not given
WARNER CLASSICS AND JAZZ APEX 2564 69045-7 [68:09 + 61:05]

What a pleasure it is to hear the glorious voice of Galina Vishnevskaya in songs from her native land, sensitively accompanied by her late husband Mstislav Rostropovich. For me, the mere fact that this is Vishnevskaya singing Russian songs is recommendation in itself. Even so a few words are necessary.

Mikhail Glinka was the first Russian composer to achieve wide recognition. He died reasonably young and his output isn’t huge, but it embraces just about all forms of composition - from opera to chamber music and song. Less well known, Alexander Dargomizhsky was predominantly an opera composer and his final work in this genre - The Stone Guest - used a kind of melodic recitative, which pointed the way forwards to later operatic achievement. It is unfortunate that these composers follow one another for their songs are very similar in style, sitting comfortably in the parlour rather than the concert hall. The seventeen songs, many of which are in a steady medium paced tempo, do slightly outstay their welcome. No amount of Vishnevskaya’s artistry can hide the fact that these are neither the most representative, nor the most interesting, works of these composers. They are delightful, nonetheless, but perhaps they are best sampled in a couple of sittings, not all in one go.

With Mussorgsky we come to something really special. Here was a real forward-looking composer, who didn’t give a second thought to convention or the difficulties he might be creating for his performers. And that is the glory of this man’s music - the sheer spirit and gusto it displays. Unfortunately five of the nine songs chosen for this recital are of the visionary kind and thus are in the same vein as what has gone before. To end the first CD Gathering Mushrooms brings some welcome light relief. A couple more of Mussorgsky’s more outgoing works would have been most welcome here.

Borodin was a chemist by profession. Thus he might be seen as a part-time composer but there’s nothing to suggest the amateur in his music. When I was much younger I was told a story that because of Borodin’s work in the laboratory he could only compose when he was ill. Thus whenever he met a friend in the street, the friend would say, “Hello Alexander, I hope you’re not feeling too well today!” It’s a delightful story, but surely apocryphal, even if it does show the position in which he was held by the musical fraternity. His songs are far from the salon type of song espoused by Glinka and Dargomizhsky. We are truly, now, in the realm of the concert hall. These five songs are splendid examples of Borodin’s melodic gift and of his ability to make the most of his material. However, as with the first CD all these songs are reflective and there is no variety from one to the next.

There’s slightly more variety in the selection of Tchaikovsky songs, but not much. Here they veer from one extreme to the other. There’s the salon - None but the lonely heart - and the marvellous nervousness, perfectly suited to the concert platform, of Amid the din of the ball, although it must be said that the din is quite restrained.

Unfortunately, because of the programming we don’t get a real picture of any of these composers. They could all write faster, lighter songs, and a better representation of their varied outputs would make for a more interesting recital. What’s missing is a bit of variety; it would have been most welcome. That said, Vishnevskaya is in glorious voice and she is particularly good at conveying the strange melancholy of the Russian soul as exemplified in so many of these songs.

It is a real pleasure to hear this quality of singing and I can recommend this 2 CD set. Be warned though, I am not sure if you’ll want to sit through it all in one sitting. There are no notes and no texts. The sound is good, even if the piano is placed a trifle in the distance, and occasionally it sounds a bit plummy. Enjoy Vishnevskaya - a voice like this only comes along once in a lifetime.

Bob Briggs