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Recordings

Rachmaninov and Glinka: Lieder • Songs • Chants
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.

Rachmaninov and Glinka: Lieder • Songs • Chants

Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano, Mtislav Rostropovich, piano.

Deutsche Grammophon 477 619-5 [CD]

$11.99  Click to buy

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

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