One of the finest I have heard
A most joy-inducing
A winning partnership
A Lohengrin to
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Aida Garifullina (soprano)
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Cornelius Meister
Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra/Vitaly Gnutov (track 15)
rec. February/March 2015, May 2016, ORF Großen Sendesaal, Vienna, Austria
Full sung texts with English translations DECCA 4788305 [58:53]
It is quite amazing how since the end of Communism in 1991 the operatic firmament has been filled with singers from the former USSR. Over the last quarter of a century the likes of Gorchakova, Gulagina, Borodina, Diadkova, Galusin, Hvorostovsky, Leiferkus and Chernov, right up to today’s prima dona assoluta Anna Netrebko, have been central to operatic life. This recital is by a potential future claimant to Netrebko’s crown, the 29 year old Tartar soprano with the highly operatic first name, Aida Garifullina. Her CV is already exceptionally impressive: she won Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2013, has performed with a host of famous singers including Domingo, Carreras, Bocelli, Florez, Villazon and Hvorostovsky, and played Lily Pons in the recent biopic of Florence Foster Jenkins. In an age when few classical artists have contracts with major record companies, she has signed one with Decca, the first fruit being this CD, the contents of which are a nicely varied mixture of coloratura standards, Russian arias and some songs. The voice is a very attractive lyric soprano with a coloratura extensive which can become a little shrill in alt. She is technically very impressive, with clearly articulated fioritura, though not, perhaps, showing the effortlessness of the really great singers of these roles.
The recital begins with Juliette’s “Waltz Song” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, a piece which she performed to great acclaim at the Vienna Opera Ball in February 2015. The voice is quite large for this repertoire and the tempo a little on the stately side, but the coloratura is very clear and accurate. It does, however, lack any real sense of sparkle - the doesn’t sound like a 16-year-old at her first ball. I was surprised that the “Bell Song” from Lakmé which follows was not placed first, as this is the aria she sings on the soundtrack of the Florence Foster Jenkins film - the publicity men have missed a trick here, I would have expected the front of the album to mention this fact. This is a more satisfactory performance, Garafullina conveys quite a lot of the required exoticism and her dynamic palette is wide. I also like that, unlike some sopranos, she does not double the speed for the bell sections, making them into a cackling music-hall stunt. Her trill is excellent. Commendably these are the only two real coloratura warhorses on the disc, and the rest of it contains Russian repertoire. Neither “The Song of the Hindu Guest” from Sadko or the “Hymn to the Sun” from Coq d’Or is exactly obscure, but they are nice to have. I feel that she could have made more of both, however; there is a lack of sensuousness in the chromatic scales characteristic of both pieces which are surely a gift for any singer. Also from Coq d’Or is “Shemakha’s Dance of Seduction”, which similarly slightly fails to fulfil its purpose. More off-the-beaten-track is the first of the Snow Maiden’s arias from the Prologue of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snegourochka. This is delightfully done with excellent enunciation and a real sense of the Snow Maiden’s awakening wonder. The Lullaby from Mazeppa is tenderly sung, though there is more depth of emotion to be got from it - it is, after all, sung over the corpse of Maria’s beloved, Andrey, as her mind slips into madness. The final note is beautifully poised, however.
There are a number of songs in orchestrated form, the Tchaikovsky Serenade “O ditya” and Rachmaninov’s “Siren” (Lilacs), “Zdes khoroso” (How fair this spot) and “Vocalise”. Annoyingly, the CD I received for review came without a booklet, merely the front cover and a track list, so I do not know who provided the orchestrations. I know a lot of people get rather sanctimonious about such arrangements, but I do not have any great problem with them, provided they are well done. Those on this CD are lush without being overdone (though I found the cor anglais canon in “Siren” a little too contrived and distracting), and “Zdes khoroso” is lovely. Her singing of them is sensitive, if without the detail that a great interpreter could give them; anyone who knows Kozlovsky’s “Zdes khoroso” will know how overwhelming this little song can be in the right hands. She also shows her inexperience in the “Vocalise”. Although there are, of course, no words, it should be sung and inflected in as communicative a way as if it had words, not sung by a sort of human ondes martenot. Garafullina is certainly not a human ondes martenot, but her rather straightforward singing does not always avoid monotony. There are also three Russian songs from outside the classical canon, two traditional ones “Alliki” and “Cossack Lullaby”, which are lovely and well-orchestrated, and Seloviev-Sedov’s “Midnight in Moscow” which is a famous popular song of the Communist era. For this, Garifullina is singing to a track from an album of popular Russian songs by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, a balalaika orchestra, recorded by Mercury in 1962. I must admit to a weakness for balalaika orchestra, and this track is a delightful encore at the end of the CD.
I very much enjoyed this CD, but I think it is to be seen as work in progress. There is much that is fine and even more that is very promising, but at this stage of her career she cannot be seen as an entirely finished artist. In five to ten years’ time, however, if all goes well, she could be one of the major sopranos of her time.