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Arion - Voyage of a Slavic Soul
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Romances, Op. 27: No. 1, Softly the Spirit Flew up to Heaven (1882-83) [2:50]
Songs, Op. 56 (1898): No. 1, The Nymph [3:27]: No. 2, Summer Night's Dream [5:25]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Love Songs Op. 83, B. 160 (1888) [16:15]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Romances, Op. 60, TH 106: No. 12, The Gentle Stars Shone for Us (1886) [3:47]
Romances, Op. 47, TH 103: No. 6, Does the Day Reign? (1880) [3:22]
Romances, Op. 6, TH 93: No. 5, Why? (1868) [3:24]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Songs, Op. 4 (1893) No. 4, Sing Not, O Lovely One [4:44]: No. 5, The Harvest of Sorrow [4:19]
Songs, Op. 21: No. 7, How Fair This Spot (1900-02) [2:06]
Romances, Op. 14: No. 11, Spring Waters [2:11]
Romances, Op. 34: No. 5, Arion (1910-12) [2:40]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs, JW V/2 (1892-1901) No. 1 Love [1:44]: No. 16 Constancy [1:17]: No. 30 Rosemary [3:13]: No. 50 Musicians [1:23]
Vítězslav NOVÁK (1870-1949)
The Fairytale of the Heart Op. 8 (1896) [10:46]
Natalya Romaniw (soprano)
Lada Valešová (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Suffolk
Texts and translations included

The disc title derives from the Rachmaninov song drawn from his Op.34 and grouped in this recital, logically enough, by composer. The Slavic Soul indicated here covers Russia and the Czech Lands – in the latter case Bohemia and Moravia – in a thoughtfully programmed selection. The Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw comes from a Ukrainian background and she has been increasingly prominent on the operatic stage, though I’ve not encountered her on the recital platform. Lada Valešová, on the other hand, has both Czech and Russian heritage though has lived in London for many years. I’ve reviewed her discs before - Pavel Haas (review); Janáček Haas, Martinů and Suk (review) - and suspect a lot of the programme has been informed by her knowledge of Czech song.

The Russian element has been thoughtfully selected. The three Rimsky-Korsakov songs show much romantic tracery and refined lyricism – even in the case of an unusual Tolstoy poem, Softly the soul flew up to heaven. The two Tchaikovsky settings demand, and get, both lyricism and visceral intensity and the pianist’s refined playing in Can it be day, Op.47/6 is especially lovely. They have selected five Rachmaninov songs, including two from the Op.4 set. Oh never sing to me again, its regretful lullaby element shrouded in melancholy and The Harvest of Sorrow, a study in passionate declamation are the standouts, even though Arion is the album’s title.
Dvořák’s Love Songs, Op.83 offer eight generally brief settings but ones that go straight to the heart of things. It may well be a matter of taste but the best performances tend to come from mezzos not sopranos. There’s something rather inflexible and unyielding about some soprano performances and I turn more to Bernarda Fink on Harmonia Mundi, with Roger Vignoles, and to Magdalena Kožená with Graham Johnson on DG. Both are faster than Natalya Romaniw in almost all the songs, and yet remain sufficiently metrically flexible. There is also a greater intimacy in both voice and delivery from them and, I would have thought, a greater familiarity with the repertoire. In the much rarer Novák cycle, The Fairytale of the Heart, she again competes with Kožená, here with Malcolm Martineau in another DG disc. There’s much pleasure to be had here in the five songs, two of which are very brief. Apart from her obvious linguistic advantage in this repertoire, the Moravian singer brings a more expressive melancholy, greater variegation of colour and urgency when required, though Romaniw is by no means slow here. There’s also the difference here between an accomplished song singer and an operatic voice that tends to gleam a little too brightly.

The four Janáček songs are amongst the best-known from his large-scale collection called Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs. Valešová gets the tripping rhythms of Łáska (Love) just right but I think Romaniw could have dug harder into Muzikanti, which, at this very slightly slower tempo, loses in vitality.
Nevertheless, this is a cannily selected programme with two significant Czech cycles at its heart.

Jonathan Woolf

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