Samuil FEINBERG (1890-1962)
Songs: Zaklinanie (Incantation) op.4, No.1 (1913); I ya opyat zatih u nog (Snezhnaya noch) (Once more I'm silent at your feet ­ Snowy Night) op.7, No.2 (1913-14); V bezdeistvii mladom (In Youthful Indolence) op.7, No.3 (1913-14); Drug moi milyi (My Beloved) op.16, No.2 (1923); Tri kliucha (Three Springs) op.26, No.5; Sozhzhennoye pis'mo (The Burned Letter) op.26, No.7 (1935-36); Plennyi rytsar (The Imprisoned Knight) op.28, No.2 (1939-41); Son (The Dream) op.28, No.3; Yevreiskaya pesnya (Hebrew Melody) op.28, No.4 (1939-41); Russalka (The River Sprite) op.28, No.5 (1939-41); Net ne tebia... (No, it's not you I love so hotly) op.28, No.6 (1939-41); Vykhashu ia odin... (Onto the Highway, on my own, I walk) op.28, No.7 (1939-41); Maritsa, op.47 (1958); Ne pravda li my v skazke (We're living in a story) op.14, No.1 (1912); Ona rosla za dalnimi gorami (Beyond the distant mountains she grew up) op.14, No.2 (1912); Sapho; Kogda... Golos vetra (When... The Voice of Wind) op.14, No.4 (1912); Naprasno ya begu k Sionskim vysotam (In vain I hasten onto the heights of Sion) [op.16, No.3] (1923); Yevreiskaya pesnya (Hebrew Melody) [op.27] (1935); Biedstvie (Evil) (1931);
Rita Ahonen (mezzo); Sami Luttinen (bass); Christophe Sirodeau (piano)
world premiere recordings
rec. 1999-2003,
ALTARUS AIR-CD-9038 [76:32]

The pianist and research scholar Christophe Sirodeau is the mover and shaker behind Altarus’s far too tactfully promoted Feinberg series (Feinberg feature). He shares the twelve sonatas with Nikolaos Samaltanos on two Bis discs.

Here we encounter 23 of the songs written between 1913 and 1941. We are told that this is the bulk of the Feinberg vocal output. The style is caught enthrallingly between a sort of blitzed late Scriabin and the hooded dream-worlds of Duparc and Chausson. The singers are well chosen with Luttinen’s steady haughty bass as smoothly produced as the voices of the best of baritones. Ahonen has something of a vibrato and an obsidian edge but represents a voice by no means in extremis – on the contrary.

These songs, often grand and sometimes tender, drift through perfumed tendrils of incense and fragrance. Often they proceed slowly and are seemingly cloyed by the slow motion of the surreal. The pearly raindrops of Three Springs is an exception as are the hoof-beats of The Girl and the Horse and the swirling The Voice of the Wind. I thought The Dream might also have been more candidly melodic but it soon succumbs to the predominant instinctive thought-drift. The same goes for the similarly initially melodic chime of Waiting. Alexandrov, Medtner, William Baines and Sorabji are style-brethren to this composer though it seems Feinberg is unlikely to have known anything about the latter two. He would however have known of many of the Medtner songs when Scriabin, Medtner and Rachmaninov were the golden children of Moscow’s artistic life. The final Evil impresses with its oppressive awe and angular iron bell tones.

Other Feinberg reviews on MusicWeb International include those by Colin Clarke: BIS-CD-1413 and Jonathan Woolf BIS-CD-1414.

We most urgently need to hear all three of the Feinberg piano concertos. The First is on Altarus AIR-CD-9034 played by Sirodeau. The Second is to be heard in an archive recording from the composer on a Melodiya CD. The Third is to all intents and purposes unknown apart from a recording by Viktor Bunin. Bunin is pictured within the completely admirable Altarus booklet. Then there’s a reportedly impressive string quartet as well.

Twenty-seven largely unhurried mesmerising songs from a voice that but for the championship of M. Sirodeau and the belief and commitment of Altarus we might never otherwise have heard.

Rob Barnett

Unhurried mesmerising songs from Russia’s expressionist tradition.