Recently in Recordings
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
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Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
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supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
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selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
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Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
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In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
27 Feb 2007
Rachmaninov and Glinka: Lieder • Songs • Chants
Originally released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1976, this recording of selected songs by Sergei
Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Mikhail Glinka (1804-57) make available some fine examples of
Russian art song to Western audiences.
At that time the voice of Galina Vishnevskaya was known in
the West, notably in the famous recording of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Yet this release shows
Vishnevskaya in her native mileu, with works that are quintessentially Russian, albeit separated by
seventy years, from the earliest songs by Glink to the latest ones by Rachmaninov.
At the mention of Russian art song, aural images of several pieces by Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky
emerge, but the repertoire is much richer than that, with a tradition that antedates both composers and
extends beyond them. The famous “Vocalise” of Rachmaninov (op. 34, no. 14) is known in various
settings, and Vishnevskaya’s performance on this recording is a solid one that shows her burnished
timbre and elegant lyricism. This work brings to mind the modal inflections that are stylistically present in
the art songs of a number of Russian composers, albeit to varying degrees of emphasis. With the five
selections by Rachmaninov chosen for this recording, such modality supports the long melodic lines that
reinforce the texts. While Pushkin may be the most familiar of the poets for these selections, the other
verses show Rachmaninov’s sensitivity to texts that he found meaningful. “Ne poi, krassavica” op. 4,
no. 4 (translated here as “Oh, never sing to me again”) is a fine example of the kind of art song that
Rachmaninov pursued and which Vishnevskaya delivers well.
Yet the music of the earlier generation of Russian composers is not without interest, and the art songs of
Glinka call attention to the fine vocal music he composed. While Western audiences may know him for
the overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, the vocal writing in that opera and other works shows his
sensitivity to the declamation of Russian texts and an expressive line that transcends the literal texts. The
“Barkarola” (with an anonymous text) translates the Western form to a Russian and vocal idiom. In
another, “K nej,” (“To her”) Glinka sets the poetry of Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz, whose works
influenced others, including Gustav Mahler. While some of Glinka’s songs are relatively short, some of
the more sustained pieces, like “Somnenie” (translated here as “Doubt”) convey the sense of a dramatic
moment that a signer like Vishnevskaya can project well in live performances and also in recordings like
this. The eight selections of Glinka’s songs are well chosen, and the performances are convincing. With
a singer like Vishnevskaya accompanied by such a fine pianist as Mstislav Rostropovich, this recital of
Russian song (total duration, about forty-five minutes), not only captures the national style, but also the
intrinsically musical qualities of the music these performers chose to preserve in this recording.
Not previously released on CD, this recording was reissued to commemorate Vishnevskaya’s eightieth
birthday. The CD is a fine transfer of the recording, with fine sonics and the kind of ambiance that is
customary with Deutsche Grammophon. Those unfamiliar with Vishnevskaya’s voice should enjoy this
recital which shows the soprano at her prime, and individual who are familiar with the singer in operas
and other large-scale works will enjoy her more intimate performances in this song recital.
James L. Zychowicz