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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Viktoriya Dodoka (soprano), Iola Shelley (piano)
rec. no details supplied
ATOLL ACD106 [60:52]

These songs are all listed on this CD as above with English titles. Only English texts (first verse only) are given in the slender booklet but they are sung in Russian by a native Russian, Viktoriya Dodoka, who after her Moscow training and early career in Russia, is now based in New Zealand. The recording company Atoll are to be congratulated on recording her in this repertoire, for she sounds born to it.

The songs are very important in Rachmaninov’s output, and along with his music for the Orthodox Church show him at this most Russian. Many were written or worked on at the idyllic country estate at Ivanovka where he spent many a happy and productive summer over twenty-seven years until he left Russia forever in 1917.

The recital selects something from each of his published sets of songs (though Op.38 is given complete), and opens with two longer early items from the Op.4 set, both among the more familiar. Instantly one hears that this voice is the real thing in Russian art-song. There is the authentic Slavonic sound and intensity, and a timbre with immediate appeal. Dodoka does not have the Slavonic wide vibrato, (‘wobble’) but there are occasional problems of shrillness and imprecision above the stave – where several of these songs dwell some of the time. If Dodoka sometimes shows the effort of the wide leaps, this also once or twice afflicts the sopranos on the complete Delphian edition of all the Rachmaninov songs, Evelina Dobracheva and Ekaterina Siurina. However it is Siurina who really nails the soft high note in op.21 No.7 ‘How fair is this place’, where Dodoka is a little insecure. Generally though Dodoka encompasses the technical demands of these pieces fairly well, and sounds completely inside the idiom. In the ‘Spring Waters’ of Op.14 No.7, with its range and torrential piano part, she sounds completely at home, revelling in its turbulent passion.‘Lilacs’ shows off her quiet singing, and the most celebrated song of all, the wordless ‘Vocalise’, is delightfully done. There is much to enjoy here, and a few more takes of the most taxing numbers could perhaps have made it stronger still. Dodoka has an excellent accompanist in Iola Shelley, who yields little to the excellence of Iain Burnside and of her namesake Howard Shelley in this repertoire. For now though we still await an unreservedly recommendable single disc selection of these works by a Russian soprano.

There are other options of course, now that we have three complete Rachmaninove song editions, each on three CDs and all of them valuable. The inexpensive Brilliant Classics complete survey with Howard Shelley as accompanist (originally issued on Chandos in the 1990s - review) has the virtue of using four different singers for the different voice ranges, and provides transliterated song texts - but for English translations you have to go online. The recent Delphian edition has pianist Iain Burnside and an even larger team of singers (seven of them), and the documentation includes full Cyrillic texts and English translations. If the Delphian is the current favourite for most reviewers, both surveys have high standards musically and have done great service in making this fine music accessible as never before.

Elisabeth Söderström though, in her complete Decca survey with Ashkenazy, is still my benchmark for many of these songs. Several songs have to be transposed for her soprano register, but she is more moving and characterful than Dodoka or any of the other females on the complete sets, good though they are. The Swedish soprano had a Russian mother and sounds completely idiomatic. Decca provided full (transliterated) texts and translations and good notes on each published group of songs.

Sadly the 1970s Decca set (436920-2) has become difficult and expensive to get hold of – perhaps the Eloquence label could at least offer a selection from it? It would be a pity if the excellence and sheer convenience of the two multi-singer complete editions marginalised the recording with the greatest singing – and the greatest piano playing. This music must have meant so much to the effectively exiled Ashkenazy of the 1970s, and he more than anyone else reminds us that these works, especially the later ones, are for voice and piano. At its best the singing and playing on those Decca CDs is as haunting as a long balmy summer night at Ivanovka.

Roy Westbrook

Op.4 (1889–93)
1 Oh, never sing to me again Op.14/4 [4:30]
2 The Harvest of Sorrow Op.14/5 [4:51]
Op.8 (1893)
3 The Water Lily Op.8/1 [1:33]
4 A Dream Op.8/5 [1:29]
5 A Prayer Op.8/6 [3:11]
Op.14 (1896)
6 A Little Island Op. 14/2 [2:10]
7 Spring Waters Op.14/11 [2:12]
Op.21 (1900-02)
8 Twilight Op.21/3 [2:08]
9 The Lilacs Op.21/5 [2:24]
10 Loneliness Op.21/6 [2:11]
11 How fair this place! Op.21/7 [1:51]
12 Sorrow in Springtime Op.21/12 [2:07]
Op.26 (1906)
13 Before my Window Op.26/10 [2:15]
14 Night is mournful Op.26/12 [2:11]
Op.34 (1910-15)
15 Day to Night comparing went the wind her way Op.34/4 [3:20]
16 Vocalise Op.34/14 [4:21]
Op.38 (1916)
17 In my Garden at Night Op.38/1 [1:49]
18 To Her Op.38/2 [3:07]
19 Daisies Op.38/3 [2:28]
20 The Pied Piper Op.38/4 [3:07]
21 Dreams Op.38/5 [3:49]
22 "A-Oo" (The Quest) Op.38/6 [2:52]



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