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Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
A Russia Flying Away
- a vocal poem to words by Sergei Yesenin (1977) [29:24]
Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925-1996)
The Last Spring
- a vocal cycle to words by Nikolai Zabolotsky (1980) [29:32]
Lyudmila Shkirtil (mezzo)
Yuri Serov (piano)
Natalia Sechkariova (flute)
Adil Feodorov (clarinet)
rec. St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg, 11 June 2004 (Tchaikovsky), 25 January 2005 (Sviridov)
St. Petersburg Musical Archive

These two half-hour song-cycles by Russian composers who were active during the Soviet years make an adroit match. Sviridov and Tchaikovsky were contemporaries whose births were separated by ten years and whose deaths fell two years apart. Both were students of Shostakovich but found strongly different voices of their own.

Neither composer had sympathy with complexity of expression. They were unafraid to connect directly with the lilting traditions of the songs by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. Remarkably, given the expressive style, they were written between 1977 and 1980.

Sviridov's A Russia Flying Away for mezzo and piano is a case in point. Shkirtil gently colours in the pastel shades of the folksy Autumn yet finds passionate resentment in Guard Above Clouds, Open To Me. Elsewhere she finds both defiance and querulous uncertainty. There is real emotion in these settings and if there is cleverness it is subsumed in a style that speaks direct to the heart. The songs are not completely artless and glorious pagan dissonance is used in the piano part of the song that gives the cycle its name. A vitality and exultation in speed is found in the shortest song There, Behind the Milky Hills. I wonder if Sviridov ever orchestrated this set. The piano parts have that sense. The gloriously upsurging piano in the triumphant final song is a match for the singer's florid engagement. Think of your favourite songs of confidence and victorious joy. This one is in that league. The death of poet Sergei Yesenin also inspired in Sviridov an orchestral In Memoriam. If you are pushing the boat out in other Sviridov directions then try His Snowstorm (Alto), Oratorio Pathétique (Relief) and characterful Burns settings (Toccata).

The songs here are:-

1 Autumn
2 I Have Left My Beloved Home
3 Guard Above Clouds, Open To Me
4 Silvery Glittering Road
5 A Russia Flying Away
6 Simon, O Peter… Where Are You? Come Near
7 Where Are You, Ancestral Home
8 There, Behind The Milky Hills
9 The Deathly Horn Is Blowing, Is Blowing!
10 Hark, An Owl Is Hooting Autumn Like
11 Oh, I Believe That Happiness Exists!
12 Homeland, It’s A Happy And Imminent Hour!

The Boris Tchaikovsky cycle is for mezzo, piano, flute and clarinet. The composer nails lyrical colours to the mast. Here though the songs are, by comparison with the Sviridov, slightly more buttoned up - not quite as free-ranging. There are seven:-

1 A Joyful Mood
2 Spring’s Movements
3 The Sun Is Up
4 Green Beam
5 September
6 Autumn
7 Who Responded To Me

Spring's Movements has a Mozartean tick and as elsewhere in the cycle the flute and clarinet lightly touch in the background; 'handmaidens' never competing with the piano. As I recently discovered, the ground for the classical singing aspect was also tilled by César Cui from a much earlier generation. Tchaikovsky in The Sun is Up and the magically poised September leans also on the mesmerisingly self-reflective where the composer seems to be engulfed in a mirrored landscape. The ardent rush of Green Beam contrasts with the over-bearing Autumn with its dark portents. The cycle ends with the warmly cocooned Who Responded To Me.

Tempted to look further? Tchaikovsky has plenty in store including six string quartets (Northern Flowers), First Symphony (Naxos) and Sevastopol Symphony (Chandos).

The booklet is exemplary with the background text and sung words presented in both Russian Cyrillic characters and in English. It's my loss that I cannot follow the sounds of the songs in the text. It is the practice in some cases to give the Russian sung text in transliteration but not here.

Sound quality is sturdy and not at all claustrophobic.

Cycles by composers writing in the late heyday of the USSR. They found a sort of nostalgia, an introspection and a lyricism seemingly at odds with the times.

Rob Barnett



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