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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1875-1943)
Track listing at end of review
Evelina Dobraceva (soprano); Ekaterina Siurina (soprano); Justina Gringyte (mezzo); Daniil Shtoda (tenor); Andrei Bondarenko (baritone); Rodion Pogossov (baritone); Alexander Vinogradov (bass); Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. 15-16 September, 19-20, 24 November 2012, 11-12 January 2013, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
DELPHIAN DCD34127 [3 CDs: 55:56 + 68:32 + 56:50]

Rachmaninov’s published songs have been well served on CD. Chandos released three CDs separately in the mid- to late- nineties. These have been conveniently reissued in a box by Brilliant Classics under licence from Chandos (review ~ review). Although I am not familiar with this set, I gather the documentation in the Brilliant incarnation contains no texts, though it has generally garnered positive reviews. My acquaintance with the songs derives from the Söderström/Ashkenazy set, recorded by Decca in the late seventies and issued on CD in 1993. There was also a set on Boheme from Natalia Suchkova (review).
The new set issued by Delphian, under review here, highlights two deficiencies for me in the Decca traversal. Firstly, all the songs are sung by one singer, and this in itself is limiting to some extent. Secondly, they are not recorded in chronological order. At this point, I should mention, in passing, an assortment of 27 songs sung by the soprano Maria Kurenko (1890-1980) on VAI Audio (VAIA 1094), which I would heartily recommend to lovers of these works. Increasingly more difficult to obtain, snap it up while you can – she’s a terrific singer.
This new 3-CD set issued by Delphian contains the complete published song oeuvre of 71 songs with the addition of two curiosities: "Were you hiccupping, Natasha?" and "A letter to K. S. Stanislavsky from Sergej Rachmaninoff", both composed in 1899. Whereas the Chandos set assigns the songs to four singers (soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass), the Delphian extends this to seven singers: two sopranos, mezzo, tenor, two baritones and bass. A plus sign for this set is that the songs are sung by the voices and in the keys in which Rachmaninov conceived them. Thus, the vocal timbres and colours that the composer had in mind are respected. He knew the individual singers for whom he composed, and how they differed - the deep, resonant rich bass Feodor Chaliapin, the light coloratura soprano Antonina Nezhdanova, the dramatic soprano Felia Litvinne and the soprano Nina Koshetz, the dedicatee of Op. 38.
Rachmaninov composed his songs between 1890 and 1916. Curiously, after leaving Russia in 1917, he never returned to the genre again. There were many reasons for this; financial considerations played a part, but so too his estrangement from the Russian language, its verse and the singers who stimulated his creativity. Some of the songs have become popular, whilst others have languished in obscurity. However, one thing is certain, there is quality throughout. Also evident is the compositional evolution from the earliest songs, displaying echoes and influences of Tchaikovsky, to the later ones where the composer finds his own voice in terms of colour and inspiration. Parallel to this is the evolution of his pianistic style throughout the journey - from the straightforward accompaniments of Op. 4 and 8, to more virtuosic writing in Op. 14 – try the technically demanding ‘Nr. 11: Spring waters’. Then there’s the almost impressionistic bent of the later songs. Burnside states, in his excellent notes, ‘What liberates Rachmaninov’s pianistic imagination is a move from generalized mood setting to visual trigger, away from Tchaikovsky, again, towards a more European concept of keyboard imagery’.
The inspiration for this project came from Iain Burnside, who accompanies the singers and provides the accompanying notes. The seven singers he has chosen hail from Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania, and they provide a wide range of vocal colours. This is an advantage over the other sets. Of the two sopranos, Ekaterina Siurina has a light lyric voice, whereas Evelina Dobraceva is a dramatic soprano. Andrei Bondarenko won a song prize at the Cardiff Singer of the Year 2011. An extremely fine baritone, his phrasing, dynamics and velvety tone are a delight. However, it is Alexander Vinogradov who made the deepest impression on me. His beautiful rich dark tone and musicality single him out with distinction. Listen to him in ‘Fate’ Op. 21 No. 1 with its Beethoven 5th Symphony motif. The drama he brings and his diction call to mind Chaliapin. Likewise, these characteristics can be found in the next song ‘By the Grave’ Op. 21 No. 2.
In ‘Lilacs’ Op. 21 No. 5 and ‘How peaceful’ Op. 21 No. 7 Ekaterina Siurina imbues these lyrical songs with simplicity and purity. The perennial favorite ‘Vocalise’ Op. 34 No 14 is expressively phrased and sensitively accompanied. ‘Spring Waters’ Op. 14 No. 11, my favourite of all Rachmaninov’s songs, is assigned to Evelina Dobraceva, who gives a terrific performance, bringing all her dramatic qualities to the fore. Burnside’s virtuosic accompaniment is delivered with panache.
Of the other singers, Daniil Shtoda offers an eloquently lyrical rendition of ‘The Muse’ Op. 34 No. 1, with its interesting accompaniment, immediately recognizable as originating from the pen of Rachmaninov. The dark and sparsely textured ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ Op. 34 No. 6 is aptly realized by Andrei Bondarenko. The other baritone, Rodion Pogossov, has great power and energy in his voice (‘The Poet’ Op. 34 No. 9). Justina Gringyte, the mezzo, tinges ‘The Soldier’s Wife’ Op. 8 No. 4 with melancholy and sadness.
Iain Burnside, throughout, displays great sensitivity in his accompaniments. Technically accomplished, he meets the virtuosic challenges that Rachmaninov sets the performer.
The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh affords an ideal venue, providing a sympathetic acoustic which confers warmth, resonance and space. The engineers have achieved perfect balance between piaino and singer, allowing clarity of diction.
Iain Burnside has written the excellent, detailed and informative notes which accompany the CD. Texts of the songs are provided in the original Russian and in English translation.
This set would be hard to beat by any standards – a deeply rewarding and truly stimulating musical experience.
Stephen Greenbank
Disc 1
Lieder op.4 Nr. 1-6
01. "Nr. 1: Oh no, I beg you do not leave!" [1:48]
02. "Nr. 2: Morning" [2:11]
03. "Nr. 3: In the quiet of the secret night" [2:38]
04. "Nr. 4: Oh do not sing" [4:41]
05. "Nr. 5: Oh, my field" [3:51]
06. "Nr. 6: It wasn't long ago" [1:48]
Lieder op. 8 Nr. 1-607. "Nr. 1: The water lily" [1:19]
08. "Nr. 2: My child, your beauty is like a flower" [1:50]
09. "Nr. 3: Meditation" [3:28]
10. "Nr. 4: The soldier's wife (I fell in love)" [2:05]
11. "Nr. 5: A dream" [1:15]
12. "Nr. 6: A prayer" [2:45]
Lieder op. 14 Nr. 1-1213. "Nr. 1: I wait for you" [1:38]
14. "Nr. 2: The little island" [2:06]
15. "Nr. 3: How fleeting is delight in love" [1:24]
16. "Nr. 4: I was with her" [1:30]
17. "Nr. 5: Summer nights" [1:58]
18. "Nr. 6: You are so loved by all" [2:18]
19. "Nr. 7: Do not believe me, friend" [1:30]
20. "Nr. 8: Oh, do not grieve" [2:53]
21. "Nr. 9: She is as beautiful as midday" [2:54]
22. "Nr. 10: In my soul" [2:43]
23. "Nr. 11: Spring waters" [2:01]
24. "Nr. 12: It is time" [1:25]
25. "Were you hiccupping, Natasha?" [1:45}
Disc 2
Lieder op. 21 Nr. 1-12
01. "Nr. 1: Fate" [6:51]
02. "Nr. 2: By the grave" [1:48]
03. "Nr. 3: Twilight" [2:06]
04. "Nr. 4: The answer" [1:48]
05. "Nr. 5: Lilacs" [2:06]
06. "Nr. 6: Fragment from Alfred Musset" [1:38]
07. "Nr. 7: How peaceful" [2:11]
08. "Nr. 8: On the death of a songbird" [2:34]
09. "Nr. 9: Melody" [3:21]
10. "Nr. 10: Before the icon" [3:24]
11. "Nr. 11: I am not a prophet" 1:25]
12. "Nr. 12: How pained I am" [1:52]
Lieder op. 26 Nr. 1-15
13. "Nr. 1: The heart's secret (There are many sounds)" [2:13]
14. "Nr. 2: All was taken from me" [1:03]
15. "Nr. 3: We shall rest" [2:17]
16. "Nr. 4: Two farewells" [3:49]
17. "Nr. 5: Let us leave, my sweet" [2:14]
18. "Nr. 6: Christ is risen" [2:33]
19. "Nr. 7: To my children" [3:25]
20. "Nr. 8: I beg for mercy" [1:15]
21. "Nr. 9: I am alone again" [1:55]
22. "Nr. 10: At my window" [1:59]
23. "Nr. 11: The fountain" [1:30]
24. "Nr. 12: Night is sorrowful" [2:20]
25. "Nr. 13: Yesterday we met" [2:40]
26. "Nr. 14: The ring" [2:41]
27. "Nr. 15: Everything passes" [2:01]
28. "A letter to K. S. Stanislavsky from Sergej Rachmaninoff" [3:14]
Disc 3
Lieder op. 34 Nr. 1-14
01. "Nr. 1: The muse" [3:57]
02. "Nr. 2: In the soul of each of us" [2:30]
03. "Nr. 3: The storm" [2:21]
04. "Nr. 4: A passing breeze" [3:04]
05. "Nr. 5: Arion" [2:46]
06. "Nr. 6: The raising of Lazarus" [2:19]
07. "Nr. 7: It cannot be!" [1:46]
08. "Nr. 8: Music" [2:30]
09. "Nr. 9: The poet (You knew him)" [2:35]
10. "Nr. 10: The morning of life (I remember this day)" [1:28]
11. "Nr. 11: The prophet" [3:41]
12. "Nr. 12: What happiness" [2:18]
13. "Nr. 13: Dissonance" [5:39]
14. "Nr. 14: Vocalise" [3:37]
Lieder op. 38 Nr. 1-6
15. "Nr. 1: At night in my garden" [1:52]
16. "Nr. 2: To her" [2:21]
17. "Nr. 3: Daisies" [2:35]
18. "Nr. 4: The pied piper" [2:38]
19. "Nr. 5: Sleep" [3:21]
20. "Nr. 6: "A-oo" [2:20]