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Oksana Volkova (mezzo)
Poison d’amour
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. 13-16 May 2019, Kaunas Philharmonic
Texts and translations included
DELOS DE3584 [63:50]

There is some wonderful artistry on display here. The Belarusian singer Oksana Volkova has a beautiful, lustrous mezzo voice - and it is an authentic mezzo, not a short-range soprano or an alto with ambitions - bound in a good legato. She has the musical intelligence to scale down her voice in the Mignon and Werther arias, and the technical command to do so without sacrificing tonal fullness. On the other hand, her Adriana aria is authoritative as well as beautifully sung, while her Santuzza, after a patch of in-and-out Italian at the start, is strikingly vivid. Her sensitive interpretations are consistently direct, with a "spoken" immediacy.

At the start of the Sapho aria, which opens the program, hooded vowels leave Volkova sounding a bit bottled-up; a similar occlusion persists into Printemps qui commence. She opens up more after that, but those vowels reflect a mild, though not immediately obvious, vocal imbalance. Many sustained notes at the top of the staff betray a pressure that doesn't show in the vibrant midrange. The singer does let fly into a free top in the Khovanshchina aria - the high note in the final phrase, attacked cold, is thrilling - Acerba voluttÓ!, and Pleurez mes yeux (a soprano piece!). Those arias are the highlights of the program.

The Russian-and-related arias are always welcome in the West, where we don't hear them frequently. In the Maid of Orleans scena - which you mightn't recognize from its recitative - Volkova has trouble pulling the upper notes out of her midrange, and the final cadence "hits a ceiling." Conversely, the Khovanshchina, as noted, is excellent, and she effectively embodies the Sadko aria's undercurrent of melancholy. The selection from The Grey Legend, by Volkova's compatriot Dmitry Smolski, is a deeply felt, lyrical outpouring; it's lovely, and gorgeously sung, though it wouldn't have sounded strange a century ago.

The only flat-out misfire is the SÚguidille: trying for a casual manner, Volkova treats it as too much of a throwaway. She lets little running notes go out of tune. and can't keep up in the patter phrases, even at the moderate tempo Orbelian sets for her. The faster central section of the Tchaikovsky aria gets similarly "stuck."

The Lithuanian orchestra - look carefully: that's Kaunas City, not Kansas City - sounds fuller than when I last heard them, on Isabel Bayrakdarian's The Other Cleopatra, which used a reduced ensemble. The full chords in the Sapho make a nice impact; the interlude in the Smolski is especially warm and full-throated. The divided violins in Mon coeur, while thin-toned, play carefully; the clarinet launches the Le Cid aria with an impressive hush, though its obbligatos in the Tchaikovsky seem reticent. Orbelian's conducting is supportive.

If you're finicky about editions, Volkova uses the "anthology ending" to Mon coeur - no commandeering the tenor's B-flat - and extends Voi lo sapete past "Io piango" to "Io son dannata!", without the closing paragraph. The booklet includes texts and English translations, but one after the other rather than side-by-side, which you might find a nuisance.

Despite my strictures, I enjoyed this introduction to Volkova's singing, and I look forward to still better things from her.

Stephen Francis Vasta

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson ~ Ralph Moore ~ Paul Steinson ~ G÷ran Forsling

Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Sapho: O ma lyre immortelle (1851) [8:01]
Camille SAINT-SA╦NS (1835-1921)
Samson et Dalila (1877):
Printemps qui commence (4:58)
Mon coeur s'ouvre Ó ta voix (6:15)
Dmitry SMOLSKI (1937-2017)
The Gray Legend: Ti pripomni jak lotaz kalisti u lugah mi zbirali (1978) [3:15]
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)
Mignon: Connais-tu le pays? (1866) [5:05]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sadko: Vsyu noch zhdala ego ya ponaprasnu (1898) [5:09]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Werther: Va! Laisse couler mes larmes (1893) [2:34]
Le Cid: Pleurez! pleurez mes yeux (1885) [5:33]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Maid of Orleans: Prostite vi, kolomi, polia rodniye (1881) [7:02]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen: SÚguidille (1875) [2:08]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Khovanshchina: Sily potainye (posth., 1886) [5:18]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria rusticana: Voi lo sapete, o mamma (1888) [4:12]
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur: Acerba voluttÓ! (1902) [4:20]

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