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Vladimir GENIN (b. 1958)
Les Fleurs du Mal
À la beauté [7:37]
C’est le diable [3:10]
Madrigal triste [6:01]
L’invitation au voyage [5:37]
Je t’adore [4:17]
Les danses sombres (Interlude I) [8:02]
Le chat [3:10]
Ma terrible passion [ 3:28]
Adagio con sordino (Interlude II) [7:32]
Femme impure [3:36]
L’irréparable [9:45]
À un mediante rousse [8:24]
Sybille Diethelm (soprano), Elena Revich (violin), Sergey Poltavsky (viola),
Rustam Komachkov (cello), Olga Domnina (piano).
rec. 2012, Moscow Choral Arts Academy 'V.S. Popov'.
VOXTORG VX1 [70:49]

Olga Domnina has worked with Vladimir Genin in her superb recording of his Seven Melodies for the Dial (see review), which is an impressive work by any standards. In this cycle, described as ‘Twelve Songs and Dances’, Genin has taken inspiration from the poems of Charles Pierre Baudelaire.

Nicely presented, the booklet contains all of the texts but no translations, so your French language skills will be put to the test. There are three booklet notes in English, French and Russian, but each is different, so much of the information will remain an enigma for non-multi-linguists. In the English essay Andrei Navrozov muses on the contrast of the liberal Russian response to Baudelaire as opposed to that in scandalised Europe, putting into question the “seamless congruity between political and cultural freedom that has so lodged itself in the modern mind.” Vladimir Genin’s music seems to make as little moral judgement on the texts as did Baudelaire himself. Genin creates songs of classical beauty or dramatic but no less traditional character which can be accepted on their own terms, whether or not you can catch the meanings or implications of the words.

The first, À la beauté challenges soprano Sybille Diethelm to some strikingly high notes in a song whose piano chords recall Messiaen in atmospheric mood. The powerful C’est le diable has a more Russian feel, with a cabaret drama developing over machine-like marching rhythms. Each of the songs has a subtitle indicating the character or origins of the music. The gorgeous Madrigal triste is for example given the nature of a gently swaying Sicilienne; the darting interjections of the strings contrast in their folk-like directness. L’invitation au voyage is heard as a highly effective Tango. The punchy syncopations and instrumentation provide a perfect setting with some seductively jazzy elements.

The two Interludes offer some respite for the voice while maintaining the character of the songs. The first of these is quite a dark piece, Les danses sombre, complete with a grotesque waltz. The second is titled Adagio con sordino, sustaining a minor key mood that builds to an anguished climax. I admire the way Vladimir Genin avoids stereotype while drawing on genres familiar from Viennese expressionism and gas-lit inter-war evocations. Le chat could almost be something by Schoenberg: not quite Pierrot Lunaire but with a comparable vibe. The racing accompaniment and drama in Ma terrible passion forms a Tarantella on an operatic scale, as is the deceptive Scherzo of the potent, violent, almost unbearably adversarial Femme impure. Angular questioning and distant piano notes create a remarkable landscape in L’irréparable and, as it should be in such a cycle, the return to uncertain beauty is confirmed in the final Berceuse of À une Mendiante rousse. This latter grows into a climax akin to the Mussorgsky’s bells and closes in a genuinely moving apotheosis.

This is very much a star turn for Sybille Diethelm , but the instrumental musicians are of equal quality and pianist Olga Domnina is sublime. The feeling of synergy between the musicians and this music as well as between each other is complete and would be hard to surpass. This is a major song-cycle, and I am delighted that it has been given such a fine recording as this. There are those who claim contemporary music has nothing more to say, but if you want to render these people speechless you can confront them with Les fleurs du Mal.

Dominy Clements