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Aida Garifullina (soprano)
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Cornelius Meister
Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra/Vitaly Gnutov (track 15)
rec. 2015/16, ORF Großen Sendesaal, Vienna, Austria
Full sung texts in Russian transliteration with German, English and French translations
DECCA 478 8305 [58.53]

This debut recording recital was glowingly reviewed by Michael Cookson in April 2017 but passed me by. My recent watching of the highly entertaining and touchingly acted biopic of the famed anti-diva Florence Foster Jenkins prompted me to acquire this album, as the film featured Aida Garifullina portraying Lily Pons singing the Bell Song and I was impressed. Apart from the exceptional quality of her soprano, she also happens to be personally very alluring, which might be artistically irrelevant but does no harm to her capacity to portray operatic heroines on stage.

The programme consists of two celebrated arias from French opera and thirteen Russian songs and arias, playing to her strengths and tastes. The voice is silvery, powerful and vibrant and she has a great trill. I have not heard her live but note that she has been singing principal roles at the Mariinsky Theatre and the Vienna Staatsoper, so would assume that she has not been artificially boosted by recording engineers. She displays remarkable vocal and interpretative maturity for an artist not yet thirty at the time of the recordings. I find her sound far preferable to many other recent debutante sopranos, or singers such as Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka who have achieved prominence of late. Her purity and steadiness of tone are reminiscent of artists from previous generations such as Lucia Popp. It should be noted, however, that both in the film and here she transposes the Lakmé aria down a whole tone, unlike, say, the classic account by Callas. Why? Well the top D is a bit thin, so maybe the top E was beyond her.

The finest tracks here for me are those from The Golden Cockerel, where Garifullina bids fair to rival Beverly Sills in her ability to spin a stratospheric vocal line, but the headily indulgent Rachmaninov songs are also real showpieces. Of particular appeal to Western ears are those pieces melismatic riffs are so clearly influenced by Asiatic musical styles, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Oriental Romance and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Garifullina cites Anna Moffo as one of her models and her seamless version of the latter evinces Moffo’s influence without quite replicating her distinctiveness of timbre.

The last track is the product of a little over-dubbing trickery, the instrumental backing being recorded as long ago as 1962 and well-known to collectors as being a favourite item from the Mercury Living Presence Balalaika Favourites.

The orchestral arrangements are lush but not obtrusive. Cornelius Meister and the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester play beautifully.

Let us hope she uses her lovely lyric soprano wisely and gives us her Gilda, Susanna and Lauretta before she tackles heavier roles. With that in mind, perhaps we should regard the downward transposition as being indicative of an advisable prudence on her part; too many young singers over-reach and fade too soon.

Ralph Moore

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson ~ Paul Steinson

Track listing
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
1. ‘Ah! Je veux vivre’ from Roméo et Juliette [3.53]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
2. ‘Où va la jeune Indoue?’ (Bell Song) from Lakmé [8.38]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
3. Song of India [3.20] arranged Paul Bateman
4. ‘The Snow Maiden’s Aria’ from Prologue to The Snow Maiden [4.09]
5. Serenada, No. 6 from 6 Romances, Op. 63 [3.48] arranged Chris Hazel
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
6. Lilacs (Siren), No. 5 from 12 Romances, Op. 21 [2.32] arranged Michael Rot
7. Allüki [3.42] traditional Tatar folk song arranged Paul Campbell
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
8. ‘Maria’s Lullaby’ from Mazeppa [2.55]
9. Queen of Shemakha’s Entrance aria ‘Hymn to the Sun’ from The Golden Cockerel [4.38]
10. ‘Queen of Shemakha’s Seduction Aria’ from The Golden Cockerel [2.06]
11. ‘Zdes’ khoroso’ (How beautiful it is here), No. 7 from 12 Romances, Op. 21 [2.19] arranged Michael Rot
12. Oriental Romance (The Rose and the Nightingale)’ Op. 2, No. 2 [3.01]
arranged Andreas N. Tarkmann
13. Vocalise, No. 14 from 14 Songs, Op. 34 [8.00]
14. Cossack Lullaby [3.38] traditional, arranged Texu Kim
Vasily SOLOVYOV-SEDOY (1907-1979)
15. Midnight in Moscow [2.16]
(Orchestral track by Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra/Vitaly Gnutov - Recorded June 1962 Bolshoi Hall, Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow - Mercury Living Presence LP Balalaika Favourites.)


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