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Pauline VIARDOT (1821-1910)
Fifteen Russian songs to texts by Fet, Koltsov, Lermontov, Pushkin, Turgenev and Tutchev (1864-82) [34:45]
Six Chopin Mazurkas: First Series (1864) [15:35]
Six Chopin Mazurkas: Second series (1865) [18:42]
Ina Kancheva (soprano)
Kamelia Kader (mezzo)
Christo Tanev (cello)
Ludmil Angelov (piano)
Full texts and translations
rec. July 2014, First Studio of Bulgarian National Radio

From a prodigiously talented musical family - her father was the great Spanish tenor Manuel García, her brother was a famous vocal teacher in London where Jenny Lind was his pupil, and her sister was mezzo-soprano superstar Maria Malibran (‘La Malibran’) – Pauline Viardot studied piano with Liszt, theory with Reicha, and made her debut as a mezzo at 16. She also inspired a raft of composers from Berlioz to Wagner, Chopin to Schumann and, unsatisfied with all this, had the talent and time to add composition to her raft of accomplishments.

Her character must have been bewitching to have made and retained so many distinguished musical friendships. Indeed, it was her friendship with George Sand that led directly to her association with Chopin of whose piano music – according to none other than Saint-Saëns – she was the best interpreter of the time. It’s curious to think that Viardot, only a few years older than the French composer, lived long enough to have recorded. How intriguing to think what a Viardot-plays-Chopin sequence of 78s would have sounded like.

Viardot arranged twelve of Chopin’s mazurkas in two sets. She commissioned texts from the poet Louis Pomey, serviceable lyrics without much literary distinction. It’s known she sang them to Chopin’s own accompaniment on two occasions, and without him on a number of others, but she only published the works after his death. She vested quite an amount of virtuosity in the vocal settings. Sometimes there’s flaring drama, at other times a coquettish and coloratura brio – try the second of the first sequence, published in 1864 (track 17) for examples of the latter. Quasi-cadential passages intrude which take the music close to operatic declamation. That in La Fête, the first of the 1865 series (track 22) is certainly pugnacious, though La Danse (No.11 in the total of 12, track 26) sounds a little tricky to negotiate. She ends both sets with an invitation to a second singer to join – the soprano-mezzo combination working well without muddying matters unduly.

If these mazurkas are more a memento of her professional relationship and personal friendship with Chopin, her Russian songs offer a more assured index of her compositional status. As a singer she had achieved huge success in Russia in the 1843-44 season, which is where she met Turgenev with whom she had a 40-year relationship that remains somewhat shrouded in uncertainty. She set his lyrics as well as those of many leading Russians – she spoke the language well – including Pushkin, Lermontov and Fet. The sets were composed between 1864 and 1882 and individual songs have been extracted for performance or more rarely several, such as the four songs from the ten-song 1865 cycle. One gets a feel for the sense of involvement and drama here, whether in the often surprisingly agitated piano accompaniments or in those moments of really explosive fireworks – her Pushkin setting (track 7) is truly vehement in places. She mines Russian melancholia and folklore sympathetically though when she employs the cello – for Fet’s song Stars – it’s with rather salonesque results. Here too, not surprisingly given her background, she unleashes operatic declamation – and it’s Pushkin rather than Turgenev, on the evidence of the songs selected for this disc, that draw from her the most extreme responses.

This Bulgarian recording is committed and vital. Sometimes Ina Kancheva’s flaring vocal instincts can seem a little misplaced in the Chopin songs, but not in the Russian ones. Pianist Ludmil Angelov bears a particular weight of responsibility as the piano writing is often compelling and he is notably successful. Together the artists make a good case for the Russian songs in particular.

Jonathan Woolf



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