A few years ago I reviewed a disc with former Cardiff Singer of the World
finalist Katarzyna Dondalska and, in the main, very positively (see review
). There she sang songs by three Polish composers. On the present disc she throws her net a bit wider and catches no fewer than sixteen composers of many nationalities. This disc is more of a playground for coloratura fireworks but that doesn’t exclude musical values of a higher dignity than sheer technical brilliance.
Ms Dondalska is in good voice, she is technically accomplished, her intonation is pinpoint also in the uppermost register and her trill is impressive. On the debit side we can enter a certain hardness of tone in the book-keeping and occasionally a mite too much vibrato. Overall, though, this is very musical singing with a good sense of musical phrase and nuance. Alyabyev’s Solovey
is a legendary showpiece for operatic nightingales (‘solovey’ means literally ‘nightingale’) and Ms Dondalska’s stratospheric flights are fascinating. Alyabyev (also transliterated as Alabiev or Alabieff) is regarded as the father of Russian art song and this one was written in prison in 1825, where he was detained for alleged murder. The song became known to wide audiences when Pauline Viardot inserted it in Rosina’s singing lesson in Il barbiere di Siviglia
, a tradition that was continued by both Adelina Patti and Marcella Sembrich.
Nightingales are in plentiful supply on this disc. Rimsky-Korsakov’s beautiful song also deals with this modest little creature, as does Delibes’ long and elaborate song with obbligato flute, expertly played by Katarzyna Czerwinska-Gosz. Delibes had a soft spot for high coloraturas, just think of The Bell Song
and also the delectable Les filles de Cadix.
Dondalska also shows in this wide-ranging song that she isn’t bad in the contralto range either. The song in this arrangement by Ary van Leeuwen is dedicated to Lily Pons, ‘the admirable singer’.
The following two songs by Polish composers are settings of the same poem by Adam Mickiewicz, and through my knowledge of Polish I guess that the nightingale is the central character here too. ‘Słowik’ is ‘nightingale’ according to Google. Niewiadomski’s setting is very beautiful with no exhibition, and Zelenski’s version has quite an elaborate piano accompaniment.
With Dell’Acqua’s Villanelle
we change birds for a moment; here it’s a swallow the poet sees flying by. With lovely violin playing and nuanced singing this beautiful song is a gem. It is also one of the great showpieces for coloratura display.
Natan Dondalski’s violin is present also in Schumann’s idyllic Sommerruh
. We glimpse a nightingale here too, but it isn’t in virtuoso mood. It sings with subdued warmth and beautiful legato, aided by a likewise warmly singing violin. Rarely heard but truly beautiful.
Thomas Haynes Bayly is probably better known as a poet and dramatist, and many of his poems were successfully set to music by Bishop. Bayly also set of his own poems to music and this simple little melody, adorned with some virtuoso embellishments, is quite sweet. Here the fluttering wings belong to a butterfly. I’m afraid I am at loss to identify what flying creature is depicted in Rozycki’s lovely song, one of my favourites with its impressionist accompaniment. The little blue bird in Jacques-Dalcroze’s song is also beautiful.
Saint-Saëns returns to the nightingale theme in his two songs. The first of them requires strong singing and the piano part was clearly created for a brilliant pianist. The second of them, a vocalise from the drama Parysatis
by Jane Dieulafoy is a sheer showpiece - something to admire for the sake of the singer’s technique and range.
For me Dominick Argento is synonymous with the 1988 opera The Aspern Papers
, written for Elisabeth Söderström and Frederica von Stade. Von Stade didn’t sing in it when it was mounted in Stockholm a couple of years later but Söderström did. The whole opera was a strong experience which I had to see twice. Spring
is a charming part of Six Elizabethan Songs
where several bird sounds are heard but only the cuckoo is identified. An ornithologist would probably recognise the others.
Alban Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder
have more or less become standard fare of late and Die Nachtigall
is no more difficult to come to grips with than Richard Strauss or Hugo Wolf. This is high romantic music. Far more advanced harmonically is Szymanowski and Słowik
is deeply fascinating. I have never associated Hans Pfitzner with light-hearted spring mood, but here he lets his hair down. The ‘fink’ (finch) of the title is actually accompanied by a nightingale.
Franz Grothe, who is allotted no fewer than four songs, was one of the most popular light music composers in Germany. He also produced music for a large number of films, including the 1941 Die schwedische Nachtigall,
about the soprano Jenny Lind. The title role was played by Ilse Werner but the songs were dubbed by the great Erna Berger. Die Nachtigall
with flute obbligato has a noble central melody. In general style his music is steeped in German operetta style, easy on the ear and not without charm. In the last two of them we again hear the excellent Natan Dondalski’s violin. Die Lerche und der Geiger
(tr 20) is also film music but though the German Wikipedia list an enormous number of film scores from his pen, this one is missing.
By the side of some inevitable showpieces for coloratura display we get many charming and entertaining songs that are well worth any listener’s attention. They are performed stylishly and with affection.
Alexander ALYABYEV (1787 - 1851)
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 - 1908)
2. Plenivshis rozoj, solovey …
Op. 2 No. 2 [2:54]
Leo DELIBES (1836 - 1891)
3. Le Rossignol
Stanislaw NIEWIADOMSKI (1859 - 1936)
4. Slowiczku mój!
Op. 24 No. 7 [2:34]
Wladyslaw ZELENSKI (1837 - 1921)
5. Slowiczku mój
Eva DELL’ACQUA (1856 - 1930)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)
Thomas Haynes BAYLY (1797 - 1839)
8. I’d be a butterfly [3:03]
Ludomir ROZYCKI (1883 - 1953)
9. Rajski ptak
Émile JACQUES-DALCROZE (1865 - 1950)
10. L’oiseau bleu
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 - 1921)
11. Le Rossignol
12. Le Rossignol et la Rose - vocalise
Dominick ARGENTO (b. 1927)
13. Spring [1:38]
Alban BERG (1885 - 1935)
14. Die Nachtigall
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882 - 1937)
, Op. 31 No. 2 [3:04]
Hans PFITZNER (1869 - 1949)
16. Singt mein Schatz wie ein Fink
, Op. 33 No. 5 [1:52]
Franz GROTHE (1908 - 1982)
17. Lied der Nachtigall
18. Ein kleiner Zweig voll Regentropfen
19. Die Melodie des Lebens
20. Die Lerche und der Geiger