Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Morning, Op.4 No.2 [2:03]
Oh Do Not Grieve, Op.14 No.8 [2:54]
I Wait For Thee, Op.14 No.1 [1:52]
In the Silence of the Secret Night, Op.4 No.3 [2:44]
Beautiful as the Day, Op.14 No.9 [2:25]
Christ Has Risen, Op.26 No.6 [2:42]
The Waters of Spring, Op.14 No.11 [2:10]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
The Nursery (Oh Tell Me Nanny; In the Corner;
The Beetle; Lullaby of the Doll; The Evening Prayer;
On the Hobby-Horse; The Cat Named Sailor) [16:24]
Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Wasn’t I A Blade of Grass? Op.47 No.7 [5:37]
Zemphira’s Song [1:57]
If I Only Had Known, Op.47 No.1 [4:31]
Does The Day Reign, Op.47 No.6 [3:14]
Songs and Dances of Death (Lullaby; Serenade;
Trepak; The Field-Marshal) [19:46]
Ewa Podles (mezzo), Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. 1993, Théâtre de Poissy, France. DDD
No texts or translations.
FORLANE FOR16683 [69:43]
The famous Polish singer shows great affinity with the Russian
song repertoire. On this disc she is partnered by the infallible
Graham Johnson. The result is admirable.
Rachmaninov’s songs are lush, and you can be sure each one will
sport a highly Romantic climax. The composer had the gift of
combining simple motivic cells into memorable, opulent melodies.
These are grand romances, where nothing is lean, and Podles’
singing here has a calorie count, just like the songs. Her voice
is dark and round, and radiates power. Still, even in the climaxes
her singing is, above all, beautiful. Many Rachmaninov songs,
such as The Waters of Spring, become impressive and difficult
piano pieces if we remove the vocal part.
Mussorgsky’s Nursery is a unique cycle. It’s hard to
believe that it was written in 1872 and not some sixty years
later. These songs, as often with Mussorgsky, are pure theatre:
there are roles for the nanny and the children. The composer,
who also provided the texts, mimics the child’s manner of talk
and intonations – and he was a great master of bringing the
real-life intonation into music. Podles changes her manner completely
to meet the need. She is candidly childish. Also, even if you
don’t understand the words, you’ll know when the hero is a little
boy, and when it’s a girl: the former is more prankish, the
latter more gentle. Podles as the Nanny is completely different,
her voice sounds mature and bossy – and yet we feel that she
loves her charges and only pretends to be angry. These are pictures
of a child’s fears and joys, little mischief, curiosity and
delights. The piano part is done very neatly; nothing is excessive,
yet it adds bright strokes and accents to the pictures.
Out of Tchaikovsky’s many songs, four were selected. Two of
them, Wasn’t I A Blade of Grass? and If I Only Had
Known are folk-like and dramatic, resembling Lisa’s aria
from Pique Dame. Does the Day Reign is rapturous,
close to Vaudémont’s song from Iolanta. Zemphira’s
Song is untamed and defiant. Generally, Tchaikovsky’s songs
are not the sumptuous statements of a Rachmaninov. They are
expressive, but without grandiloquence, more simple and sincere.
Also, the music does not do all the work for the singer, who
needs to put a lot of soul into the singing, or else all will
look square. The presentation by Podles is very operatic, not
really intimate, but for the chosen songs it works well. The
sad numbers are really tragic, Zemphira’s Song is wild
and taunting, and Does the Day Reign is ecstatic, though
her voice becomes a bit too hard here.
This hardness, though, is welcome in Mussorgsky’s Songs and
Dances of Death. In Lullaby, Death (female in Russian)
is pictured by Podles as sweet and smiling like a caring grandma.
It truly has a human face, and there is none of the mystical
iciness which I feel when listening to the recording by Marianne
Beate Kielland on 2L. The ending is unexpectedly comic -
very strange, as if Death were some malign witch from a children’s
show. This song is followed by a truly excellent rendition of
the Serenade: sensual, assured and with a powerful ending.
In Trepak, Podles again depicts Death as kind, feminine,
even playful. Death lures and ensnares, until it shows its real
nature, summoning the blizzard to bury the lost man. And then
Death, soft and tender again, sings sweet tales to him. The
Field-Marshal depicts the horrors of a battle and the final
victorious song of the Death, its apotheosis. Podles has the
necessary power to bring out the composer’s intentions. She
applies excellent word coloring. This terrifying dirge-march
provides both the culmination and the finale for this album.
And this was the right decision: I can’t imagine something that
could be sung after such a passionate and thought-provoking
interpretation. Of the interpretations I have heard, the most
hair-raising one was done by Kielland/Osadchuk, but Podles undeniably
exhibits greater mastery of voice.
Ewa Podles is famous for her exceptional voice range. She goes
down to the lows and up to the highs, while keeping the sound
beautiful. Though sometimes her voice can become hard and heavy,
such occasions are rare. Her Russian pronunciation is exemplary,
and native speakers should have no reservations. She impresses
with her perfect diction and deepest understanding of the nuances
of meaning, which she expresses vocally.
The accompaniment by Graham Johnson is typically fine – though
this can be taken for granted, right? I want to point out the
feeling of freedom that his playing radiates: freedom and power.
He is not hiding behind the singer, but is a true partner. The
recording quality is very good and clear, capturing the black
pearls of Podles’ voice admirably. The booklet contains small
essays in French and English about the works, as well as the
performers’ biographies, but regrettably no texts or translations.
This is an admirable recital, expressive and exciting. But be
prepared when you approach The Nursery: it is so different
from your regular Romantic song-cycles! I just want it to be
a discovery for you, not a shock.