Magazine article Gramophone

Rachmaninov's Songs: Geoffrey Norris Listens to a Complete Recording of Rachmaninov's Songs, from Seven Singers Accompanied by Iain Burnside

Magazine article Gramophone

Rachmaninov's Songs: Geoffrey Norris Listens to a Complete Recording of Rachmaninov's Songs, from Seven Singers Accompanied by Iain Burnside

Article excerpt

It is worth taking note of the people to whom Rachmaninov dedicated his songs. There are friends and relatives; there is a childhood sweetheart; there is his future wife together with at least one mistress; and there are singers. One of the Op 8 songs, 'Molitva' ('A Prayer', 1893), was written for the dramatic soprano Mariya Deysha-Sionitskaya, presumably as a thank-you for having sung the role of Zemfira in the Bolshoi Theatre premiere of Aleko in the spring of that year. Among the Op 14 songs, two from 1896 are dedicated to Elizaveta Lavrovskaya, the mezzo who first put the idea of Eugene Onegin into Tchaikovsky's head. In Op 21 (1900, 1902) we find the names of Chaliapin and the lyric soprano Nadezhda Vrubel. Chaliapin reappears in the Op 34 set (1912) along with the tenor Leonid Sobinov, the meaty-role soprano Felia Litvinne and, in the famous Vocalise, the coloratura of Antonina Nezhdanova. Then all six of the Op 38 songs (1916) were composed for the rich, malleable soprano of Nina Koshetz, with whom Rachmaninov almost certainly enjoyed more than merely an artistic understanding.

Bearing in mind that Rachmaninov had such a varied spectrum of vocal talent within his orbit and his imagination, it is all the more appropriate that the songs should be sung, as on this first-rate three-disc set, by voices in the ranges and of the temperaments and timbres for which they were intended. Chandos, in its three-volume set of the 1990s, spreads the songs across four voices--soprano, contralto, tenor and bass-baritone. An earlier Decca set assigned them all to the soprano Elisabeth Soderstrom, which in a number of respects had its limitations. This new set deploys seven singers--the sopranos Evelina Dobraceva and Ekaterina Siurina, the mezzo Justina Gringyte, tenor Daniil Shtoda, baritones Andrei Bondarenko and Rodion Pogossov and the bass Alexander Vinogradov--and in so doing gives a much fuller idea of the vocal diversity and specificity that Rachmaninov had in mind. That said, only two of the songs dedicated to Sobinov in Op 34 are actually sung by the tenor here: the rest are taken by female voices.

If quantity is an issue, the Chandos set is more complete than this new one, which nevertheless covers all 71 of the published songs with opus numbers. There are two extras: the musical letter that Rachmaninov wrote in October 1908 to Konstantin Stanislavsky, and the witty 'Ikalos li tebe, Natasha? …

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