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Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Songs and Romances
Margarita Gritskova (mezzo-soprano)
Maria Prinz (piano)
rec. 8-11 July 2019, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
Sung in Russian. Sung texts with English and French translations enclosed
NAXOS 8.574031 [57:03]

Margarita Gritskova is a mezzo who seems destined for some very great things. I have admired her contributions in two of the lesser known operas by Rossini in recordings which Naxos made from their Rossini in Bad Wilbad series. With this new CD I have encountered a completely different and more profound side to this wonderful Russian singer. This is the third release in a series that she has made with pianist Maria Prinz that explores the Russian song repertoire; her Prokofiev CD (review) earned two nominations in our recently published Recordings of the Year. The series has been a happy co-production between Naxos and Bavarian Radio; it is my earnest hope that there will be at least one more future release that examines the songs of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. This recital contains selections of the song catalogue of Dmitry Shostakovich presented in almost chronological order. Shostakovich was a prodigiously talented composer who was shadowed throughout his career by the overly intense scrutiny of the Soviet authorities because the despotic Josef Stalin hated his music. While Shostakovich endured no end of hardship because of this, it also helped him to produce some of the most bitingly powerful music of the Twentieth Century. In his songs he produced some very remarkably beautiful works that reveal pain, humour, a great deal of sarcasm and sometimes a touching emotional directness.

Ms Gritskova sings this music with a wonderfully rich and mellow tone that is absolutely even. She has a lively soprano-like upper extension which more than once put me in mind of Galina Vishnevskaya during that singer’s youthful prime. Gritskova imbues each song with the requisite light and shade necessary to bring out the inner details of the composer’s writing. I also find that she has a real sense of commitment to the text of each song. In “The Dragonfly and the Ant” she gleefully differentiates the voices of the two insects. In Lermontov’s “Ballad” she finds both the lyric and dramatic sides of this song about a mermaid luring a man to his death, while his “Morning in the Caucasus” is an evocative romance in which she paints the scene for the listener with soft romantic colourings. In his setting of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. 66” she offers some beautiful dark vocal colourings to this song with its barely hidden criticism of the world in which Shostakovich found himself.

Without a doubt my favorite songs on the disc are the deeply haunting Lullaby from the Jewish Folk Poetry cycle, which demonstrates the cruelty of the Czarist and Soviet oppression of the Jews. Then there are two gorgeous Spanish Songs where I particularly liked the lovely Moorish spell that Gritskova weaves in “Farewell, Granada”. Towards the end of the recital, we are treated to the high drama of “Spring Awakening”, which she manages with real gusto, and the deeply biting irony of “Preface to the Complete Edition of my Works and a Brief Reflection Apropos of this Preface”. This song especially shows Shostakovich at his most acerbically critical, as the singer recites all of the different empty sounding titles and positions assigned to him within the Communist Party, which he was publicly coerced into joining in 1960. Throughout the disc pianist Maria Prinz provides a fine carpet of sound on which the singer builds her interpretations. After three recital discs together Gritskova and Prinz seem to be achieving a really good working relationship. The CD is captured in excellent sound, and mercifully Naxos has given us English translations of these Russian songs, which helps to make this disc a true pleasure to spend an hour with.

Mike Parr
The Fables of Krylov, Op. 4 (1922)
Text: Ivan Andreyevich KRYLOV (1769-1894)
The Dragonfly & The Ant Op. 4a (3:20)
Six Romances by Japanese Poets, Op 21a (1928-1932)
Text: Otsuno ODZI (663-686), Russian Translation: Aleksandr Andreevich BRANDT (1855-1932)
No 2. Before the Suicide (1928) (1:40)
Text: Alexander Germanovich PREIS (1905-1942)
For the First and Last Time (1931) (3:20)
Two Romances on Verses of Lermontov, Op 84 (1950)
Text: Mikhail LERMONTOV (1814-1841)
No 1. Ballad (5:03)
No 2. Morning in the Caucasus (3:26)
Six Songs on Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Op. 143 (1973)
Text: Maria TSVETAYEVA (1892-1941)
No 2. Whence comes such tenderness? (3:38)
No 5. No the drum was beating (2:30)
Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin, Op. 46 (1936-1937)
TEXT: Alexander PUSHKIN (1799-1837)
No 1. Rebirth (1:58)
Six Romances on Verses by British Poets, Op. 62 (1942)
Text: William SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616) Russian Translation: Boris PASTERNAK (1890-1960)
No 5. Sonnet No. 66 (2:50)
Text: Traditional nursery rhyme, Russian Translation Samuil MARSHAK (1887-1964)
No 6. The King’s Campaign (0:45)
From Jewish Folk Poetry, Op. 79 (1948)
Text: Traditional Yiddish and Jewish folk song, Russian translation: Vera ZVYAGINTSEVA (1894-1972)
No 3. Lullaby-Little son, my fairest (3:14)

Text: Traditional Yiddish and Jewish folk song, Russian translation: Nikolai USHAKOV (1899-1973)
No 5. Warning (1:21)
Four Greek Songs (1952-1953)
Text: Traditional Cretan folk song, Russian Translation: Samuil Borisovich BOLOTIN (1901-1970)
Pentozalis (1:35)
Text: Traditional Greek folk song, Russian Translation: Tatyana SIKORSKAYA (1901-1984)
Zolongo (3:28)
Six Spanish Songs, Op. 100 (1960)
Text: Traditional Spanish folk song, Russian Translation: Samuil Borisovich BOLOTIN (1901-1970)
Farewell, Granada (2:03)
Text: Traditional Spanish folk song, Russian Translation: Tatyana SIKORSKAYA (1901-1984)
Little Stars (1:55)
Satires 'Pictures of the past', Op. 109 (1960)
Text: Sasha CHORNEY, pseudonym of Alexandr GLIKBERG (1880-1932)
No 2. Spring Awakening (2:47)
No 4. A Misunderstanding (4:35)
Preface to the Complete Edition of my works and a Brief Reflections Apropos of this Preface Op. 123 (1966) (2:17)
Text: Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Suite on Verses of Michaelangelo Buonaroti, Op 145 (1974)
Text: Michelangelo BUONAROTI (1475-1564), Russian translation: Abram EFROS (1888-1954)
XI. Immortality (3:59)

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