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CD Review

Russian Songs

Joan Rodgers, soprano
Roger Vignoles, piano
Hyperion CDA67355 59m DDD
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The fascination of song for Russian composers is a well-documented fact and akin to the quartet, this vocal medium was what one could term as the 'private' way to express one's real feelings in music. This fabulously interpreted disc contains song cycles from three of Russia's most important composers, Mussorgsky, Prokofieff and Shostakovich together with an offering by Benjamin Britten in the language of the steppes.

Mussorgsky's 'The Nursery' is full of the customary black humour that permeates most of this great composer's work. There are seven songs, all sung with customary eloquence and almost perfect diction by Joan Rodgers dealing with various aspects of the imagination like beetles, dolls and the grotesque hobbyhorse. After Arkhipova, Rodgers can now be considered to be the finest modern exponent of this cycle.

The next cycle by Prkofiev is based upon five poems by Anna Akhmatova and is filled with customary imagination and an element of darkness. The exuberance of 'Sunlight filled the room' matched with the somber mood of 'The grey eyed king' provides a study in contrasts that is rather typical of Prokofieff. Again, Rodgers sings with an uncanny feel for the idiom, ably and superbly supported by the indefatigable Vignoles.

Black humour is evidently prevalent in Shostakovich's 'Satires' that are nothing but scathing social commentaries written with the composer's customary sharpness. Each song has its own particular sense of darkness but the concluding 'Kreutzer Sonata' is undoubtedly the masterpiece of the set, again sung with chilling immediacy by Joan Rodgers.

Finally, we are treated to Benjamin Britten's mystical and at turns light hearted 'The Poet's Echoe'. The songs grew out of an association with Rostropovitch and Vishnevskaya and are by the giant of Rusian literature, Pushkin. Again they range from desperation to palpable joy and are a fitting end to an outstanding disc that is sung with aplomb by Joan Rodgers and accompanied with great subtlety and mastery by Roger Vignoles. A must for lovers of the Russian song.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech