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Nox et Solitudo
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Only You Alone, Op. 57/6 [2:46]
He Loved Me So Much, Op. 28/4 [3:27]
I’ll Tell You Nothing, Op. 60/2 [2:32]
Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Meadow?, Op. 47/7 [5:44]
Zemfira’s Song, Op. 90  [1:09]
None but the Lonely Heart, Op. 6/6 [3:00]
Forgive!, Op. 60/8 [3:38]
Does the Day Reign?, Op. 47/6 [4:01]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
In Folk Tone, Op. 73 [11:18]
Four Songs, Op. 82 [10:18]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Serious Songs, Op. 121 [17:58]
Štefan Németh-ŠAMORÍNSKY (1896-1975)
Six Songs on Poems by Endre Ady [18:10]
Vladimír SOMMER (1921-1997)
Seven Songs, for mezzo-soprano and piano [18:45]
Eugen SUCHOŇ (1908-1993)
Nox et solitudo, song-cycle, Op. 4 [11:40]
Eva Garajová (mezzo), Marian Lapšanský (piano)
rec. Martinů Hall, Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, 2014
Russian (Cyrillic), Czech-English texts.
ARCODIVA UP0151-2 302 [66:25 + 50:23]

Németh was from the Hungarian-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian empire which became part of Slovakia after the first world war. His choice of poems written between 1942 and 1944 by a popular Hungarian poet are a crucible for anguished, expressive settings. These limn the composer’s own late-life crisis and also function as a reminder that he studied in Budapest in the 1920s with Bartók.

Sommer sets Rilke, Alexander Blok and Sergei Yesenin in his 1981 cycle, haunted by death and regret. This leaves Suchon’s five-song cycle of 1932, written, under the watchful eye of his teacher Viteszlav Novák in an appealing late romantic style. Neither Sommer nor Suchon are any warmer or happier than Németh in their choice of poems.

Eva Garajová is a Slovakian mezzo who is unafraid of the lower registers of her voice. While secure at the top, it is these lower zones that really make this recital interesting, and which enervate her exploration of the Slavic repertoire, in particular. Her Tchaikovsky is exciting to listen to, tapping into the earthy, dark bass line of so many of the songs. On more than one occasion while listening to these songs, I found myself wondering how she would sound as the Countess in The Queen of Spades. He Loved me so much taps into a rich folkloric vein, and if Zemfira’s Song is a little on the histrionic side then None but the Lonely Heart makes up for it in terms of soulful evocation.

Dvořák’s Op. 73 folk-songs sound very good, and the Op. 82 ones even finer. Leave me alone has a lovely flow to it, in keeping with the song’s sentiment, and Over her embroidery has a quiet nobility that is most becoming. A real vein of darkness finds its way into the voice for the Four Serious Songs, entirely appropriately. These are very strong examples of word-painting, most especially in O Tod, wie bitter bist du though some transcendence is achieved in the final Wenn ich mit Menschen.

The second disc is devoted to Czech and Slovakian composers whose work, I imagine, is rarely heard beyond their homeland. Nemeth-Šamorínsky’s melodies are warm and approachable and, more often than not, effortlessly lyrical. There is a flow and onward momentum to his songs that puts me in mind of Dvořák; much more so than those of his teacher, Béla Bartók . The second song, I guard your eyes, is particularly moving, tracing the emotions of an old man. The fiery chariot is much more lively, though it is one of the rare moments on the disc where Garajova sounds a little strained at the top.

Vladimír Sommer’s work, on the other hand, is more experimental and edgy. The songs given here are mostly slow with spare accompaniments featuring bare chords or wandering solo lines, and repay careful attention The accompaniment of From one proximity to another, for example, sounds very close to Berg. That's indicative of most of his songs, especially the poetically and musically elliptical Song about a Cow. Garajová's voice here sounds more chilly; ghostly, even, at times. This, however, is entirely consonant with the colour of the music and happens to suit it rather well, though I admit that by the end of his sequence of songs I was struggling to tell one from another.

The music of Eugen Suchoň, on the other hand, straddles a neat middle-ground between the previous two. His song-cycle gives its title to the disc as a whole, and features some intense poems by Ivan Krasko, set to music that fits them very well and which is, by and large, lyrical with a melodramatic twist. It's growing dark, for example, features a high pitched crescendo to represent the speaker's fears, and Ballad is gently whimsical. An old romance, on the other hand, tells its simple story in a straightforwardly strophic, approachable way, and See the pale moon and Poplars are compelling in their sense of melodrama.

The accompanying booklet contains texts and English translations, though there is no transliteration of the Cyrillic for the Tchaikovsky songs. Irritatingly, though, the booklet is stuck into the middle of the cardboard CD sleeve, making it impossible to remove. This means you’ll have to find all manner of dextrous means of following the texts as you listen, if you choose to do so.

Simon Thompson