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Boris LYATOSHYNSKY (1895–1968)
Romances for Low Voice and Piano
Five Romances, Op. 5 (1922) [13:02]
From Four Romances, Op. 14/3 'Good Night' (1924) [2:39]
Ozymandias, Op. 15 (1924) [3:59]
Three Romances, Op. 6 (1922) [7:34]
From Four Romances, Op. 27/1-3 (136) [7:13]
The Sun (1940) [1:50]
From Five Romances, Op. 31/1,3-5 (1940) [7:29]
From Two Romances, Op. 32/2 (1940) [2:09]
Romances, Op. 57 (1951) [5;29]
Two Romances, Op. 37 (1942) [9:54]
Vassily Savenko (bass-baritone)
Alexander Blok (piano)
rec. 25-28 Jan 2009, Academy of Choral Arts, Moscow

The Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshynsky was a student of Glière at Kiev. If we know of him today it is as a symphonist with a complete cycle on Marco Polo (now transmuted to Naxos) and the odd symphony on Russian Disc and CPO.

Trust Toccata to lead us into the kingdom of the truly unfamiliar. They do this with an encyclopaedic essay by Anthony Phillips who is, amongst many other starring roles, the translator of the Prokofiev diaries - also sitting on my to-be-reviewed stack. All twenty-three songs are presented in the booklet in Cyrillic characters with a side-by-side translation into English.

The Five Romances of 1922 take as their subject battle, the cold moon, a dirge, death and a dying warrior after the battle. The music is sombre, resentful, angry and brooding although there are some honeyed episodes as well - albeit chilly - as in A King there was. Savenko is a firm-toned bass with a sensitivity to word use and colour. There is some strain in the more passionate moments as in I dreamed the moon shone sadly but Savenko is most impressive and stands tall in the serried ranks of Russian basses.

Two of the four 1924 Shelley romances present the composer as less under the influence of Mussorgsky than the 1922 cycle. Good night is a lyrical setting. Ozymandias, with its message of the doom of all human hubris, carries its burden in an understated ritualistic way with a piano part that is dark and spare. Whether or not this was a protest against the communist regime, who knows; it has a certain universality and could just as easily have been written in England or the USA.

Then come the Three Romances of 1922. Accursed Place speaks of a deep crimson flower drinking in its incarnadine hues from blood in the soil. The Tomb is similarly sepulchral with an active piano part that almost shimmers. These songs have fallen for death and the piano role is spare, stony and chillingly haunting.

We move from the 1920s to the 1930s with three of the Four Pushkin Romances of 1936. Sorrow still inflects the words but there's also a more folk-like inventiveness. A lighter hand is in evidence with some extremely inventive chiming and trilling writing. Three Springs leans towards romantic Tchaikovskian rapture and There on the Shore towards the ecstatic. A darker vein is at first explored by Lyatoshynsky in The Sun but the composer then turns another more summery leaf. These songs should be performed; they rank alongside those of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky.

Four of the five Franko songs of 1940 come next. Savenko's heroic tone is fully deployed in the first. In this set we are back to a generous measure of the striking Mussorgskian darkness found in the 1920s songs. The piano writing is just as spare but even more inventive. It's most superbly carried off by Alexander Blok. The Op. 57 set from 1951 exists for voice and piano and for voice and orchestra. A Letter to Siberia is pretty clear in its indomitable protesting line and is in sharp contrast to the romantically curvaceous and tenderly Tchaikovskian Elegy.

Finally we reach the Two Romances (1942). These seem to speak of the conflict, just one year old, following the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany and other hangers-on in 1941. The first is the groaningly subdued Death in Battle yet ends in a worldwide star rising over Moscow.

I am not sure why we could not have had all four of the Op. 14 songs and all five of the Op. 31 romances. There is certainly room. It is a tribute to this music that the thought even entered my mind.

Rob Barnett



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