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Russian Songs
Margarita Gritskova (mezzo-soprano), Maria Prinz (piano)
rec. 2018, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
Sung in Russian. Sung texts with English translations enclosed
NAXOS 8.573908 [58:49]

Margarita Gritskova was born in 1987 in St Petersburg. In 2010 she was a prizewinner in the Luciano Pavarotti Competition in Modena and the Concurso Internacional de Canto ‘Villa de Colmenar Vieho’. She has appeared around Europe and among other things she appeared with José Carreras in Vienna, Moscow, St Petersburg and at Carnegie Hall in New York in September 2017. I have had the pleasure to review her very positively in recordings of Rossini’s Sigismondo and Adelaide di Borgogna not long ago and was prepared for some glorious singing when I opened the latest parcel from MusicWeb, but what I heard widely surpassed my expectations. Singing art songs is a difficult genre and being a good opera singer doesn’t automatically mean that one is good at song interpretation. Margarita Gritskova seems just as adept in both genres, and here singing in her mother-tongue she knows exactly how to convey the message of the poems.

For this recital she has picked some of Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninov’s finest songs and separated them with a handful of Rimsky-Korsakov’s, which are less frequently heard, which is a pity since they are well worth hearing.

But it is Tchaikovsky that offers the calling-card – and what calling-card! Heinrich Heine’s Buch der Lieder became an inexhaustible source of inspiration for dozens of composers, not least numerous now forgotten of the second rank – and also in translation good poets/translators could transmit his thoughts and linguistic flavours to their own languages with attractive results. The song in question, in the original German titled Ich wollt’, meine Schmerzen ergössen / Sich all‘ in ein einziges Wort, has enticed into more than 30 settings, the best-known composers being Heinrich Marschner and Felix Mendelssohn. Not having heard more than the Mendelssohn, which is the first of the Sechs Duette Op. 63, I would argue that Tchaikovsky’s setting surpasses them all. It is a favourite song of mine and as performed here by Margarita Gritskova – such beautiful voice, such nuanced intelligent reading – it stands out as even better. The next song, Those were the first few days of spring, also has a Central European model, Mailied by Goethe, another of the German poets that “everybody” has set. The Russian version is by Aleksey Tolstoy, often set poet and a distant relative of Leo Tolstoy. And was I not once a little blade of grass with its refrain “Oh you, sadness mine, oh my misery! / You must be the doom allotted me!” is soft and inward and with a slight tear in the voice. Her voice control is superb, and the voice quality is even from bottom to top, from pianissimo to fortissimo. And she has a beautiful legato. Apollon Maykov’s Lullaby offers glorious singing again and she has a light pearling vibrato that is particularly enticing and beautiful at pianissimo. The well-known At the ball (tr. 5) as it is commonly known in English, words again by Tolstoy, has rarely been better sung – and the superb playing of the postlude reminds us that Maria Prinz, Bulgarian born, is one of the most versatile pianists of today as soloist, recitalist, accompanist and important teacher at the Musikuniversität Wien. She further demonstrates her excellence in the delicately played prelude to the next song about unrequited love – Tolstoy again – and here Margarita Gritskova fittingly adopts a slightly huskier tone. Probably the best-known of Tchaikovsky’s songs is None but the lonely heart as it is known in English. The original is of course Mignon’s song from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister: Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. So beautifully sung and with such feeling! Contemporary with this song (1869) is Not one word, not one sigh, oh my friend, while the concluding song in this section, My Genius, my Angel, my Friend, is the work of a teenaged Tchaikovsky, before he had even entered the Conservatory. His melancholy is tangible even so early.

While Tchaikovsky wrote around 100 songs Rimsky-Korsakov’s output was only about half that number. On the other hand he arranged 100 folk songs.

By a coincidence I listened to the Rimsky-Korsakov songs just a couple of days after seeing a performance of The Tsar’s Bride at the Estonian National Opera. The first three songs are almost contemporaneous with that opera. The songs, some of which I have heard in other compilations, are very attractive. Nicolai Gedda recorded some of them. Tolstoy and Pushkin are again featured poets, and besides the first three from the late 1890s, we are treated to A rose has charmed a nightingale, where Margarita Gritskova displays her highest register, and Upon the Georgian hills there lies the haze of night. I’ve always had a soft spot for Gedda’s interpretation of the latter, but Margarita Gritskova’s fresher reading is even more attractive. After all Gedda was way past 60 when he recorded it. These two songs were among his earliest compositions. In his autobiography he claimed that his very first song, a setting of a poem by Heine, was written in December 1865 and was included among the four songs that constitute Op. 2. More than 30 years separate these beginner’s works from the first three in this group, but it is hard to hear any great differences stylistically. Rimsky-Korsakov was fairly consistent throughout his career. The freshness of the early essays is indisputable, but there is similar freshness in the later ones too, possibly reinforced through Margarita Gritskova’s readings.

The Rachmaninov songs are – with one exception – contemporaneous with Rimsky-Korsakov’s late songs and thus the work of a young composer. His 80 songs are, together with Tchaikovsky’s, among the most important Russian songs and many of them have also got a foothold outside Russia. Some of his best-known are also included here and they are valuable for the piano writing as well. The concluding Spring Waters gush forward with the powers of a Niagara! One of the most beautiful of his songs is Oh beauty, do not sing to me, a personal favourite again. The text is by Pushkin, whose poetry so often entices the best out of the composers. The sensitive prelude is especially enticing but the whole song has all the attributes of the young Rach at his best – and the way it is sung here! Her pianissimo singing is absolutely marvellous. In the ubiquitous Vocalise she adopts a somewhat veiled tone – and not inappropriately, it makes you listen with fresh ears – and how she glows up high towards the end! Vocalise is the odd one out, composed in 1912 for the great Antonina Nezhdanova.

This is by some margin the best recital with Russian songs I’ve heard for many moons! Don’t miss it!

Göran Forsling

Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
1. I wish I could take all my sadness (1875) (Heine transl. Lev Alexandrovich Mey) [1:44]
2. 6 Romances, Op. 38 – No. 2. Those were the first days of spring (1878) (Aleksey Tolstoy after Goethe) [2:45]
3. 7 Romances, Op. 47 – No. 7. And was I not once a little blade of grass (1880) (Ivan Surikov after Taras Shevchenko) [5:18]
4. 6 Romances, Op. 16 – No. 1. Lullaby (1872) (Apollon Nikolayevich Maykov) [4:27]
5. 6 Romances, Op. 38 – No. 3. By chance at a ball I did see you (1878) (A. Tolstoy) [1:49]
6. 7 Romances, Op. 47 – No. 1. If I’d only guessed (1880) (A. Tolstoy) [4:36]
7. 6 Romances, Op. 6 – No. 6. No, only he who knew (1869) (Lev Alexandrovich Mey after Goethe) [2:37]
8. 6 Romances, Op. 6 – No. 2. Not one word, not one sigh, oh my friend … (1869) (Moritz Hartmann transl. Aleksey Nikolayevich Pleshcheyev) [2:41]
9. My Genius, my Angel, my Friend (1857/58) (Afanasy Fet) [2:01]
Nikolay Andreyevich RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 – 1908)
10. Vesnoy, Op. 43 (In Spring) – No. 2. T’was not the wind that lightly brushed (1897) (A. Tolstoy) [1:49]
11. 4 Songs, Op. 42 – No. 3. The flying wisps of clouds are thinning, scattering far (1897) (Alexander Pushkin) [3:21]
12. 4 Songs, Op. 39 – No. 2. In the west the pale rose sunset’s darkening (1897) (A. Tolstoy) [2:40]
13. 4 Songs, Op. 2 – No. 2. A rose has charmed a nightingale (1866) (Aleksey Vasil’yevich Koltsov) [3:10]
14. 4 Songs, Op. 3 – No. 4. Upon the Georgian hills there lies the haze of night (1866) (A. Pushkin) [2:02]
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
15. 12 Songs, Op. 14 – No. 1. I wait for you (1894-96) (Mariya Davidova) [1:37]
16. 6 Songs, Op. 8 – No. 4. Oh, I fell in love, to my own despair (1893) (T. Shevchenko transl. A. N. Pleshcheyev) [2:16]
17. 6 Songs, Op. 4 – No. 4. Oh beauty, do not sing to me (1893) (A. Pushkin) [4:41]
18. 12 Songs, Op. 21 – No. 7. How good ‘tis here! (1900) (Galina Galina) [1:44]
19. 14 Songs, Op. 34 – No. 14. Vocalise (1912) [5:20]
20. 12 Songs Op. 14 – No. 11. The Waters of Spring (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev) [2:07]



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