Notes and Editorial Reviews
Evening; Spring Again; The Mermaid’s Song; ‘Tis no Breeze from on High; As if on Hot Embers; All Day She Lay Dazed; Save Me; You are the Rustling of Tender Leaves; No, I Cannot Go to Sleep; The Words Fell Silent; In This Murky Life; Dear Friend; There, Where the Willows are Gathered as a Family; Poor Friend; Mother Earth; The Time of the Spring Storms; In the Morning Mist
Yana Ivanilova (s); Anna Zassimova (pn)
ANTES EDITION 319286 (45:59
Text and Translation)
a fascinating discovery. Georges Catoire (1861–1926) was born in Russia and lived there most of his life, his family having emigrated there from the French territory of Lorraine around 1800, and by the late 1800s the family was apparently well ensconced in Moscow’s upper crust. Catoire studied both music and mathematics and had genuine facility for both. Tchaikovsky was an early supporter of Catoire and his musical gifts, and encouraged the family to send him to Berlin to study when he was about 24 years old. Catoire then returned to Russia and, with recommendations from Tchaikovsky, took further lessons from Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov. Following the 1917 revolution and the death of his wife in 1920, Catoire went to Paris but found himself uncomfortable outside of Russia (despite speaking fluent French, as well as German and English), and he returned to Moscow and resumed his post as a professor at the conservatory. His music, which never had great public exposure, faded soon after his death and has remained out of the repertoire. Some important musicians have performed and promoted his music (Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Hamelin, Goldenweiser) but it does not seem to have caught on.
There have been recordings of some of his music, and you can search for him in the
Archive and find some positive reviews from Robert Maxham, Martin Anderson, and Lawrence Johnson, as well as a less-than-enthusiastic review of chamber music of Catoire by Barry Brenesal. I have not heard any of those recordings, but this disc of songs has motivated me to seek them out—particularly the Hyperion disc of piano music played by Marc-André Hamelin (CDA 67090) reviewed positively by Anderson in
Reading the various descriptions of Catoire’s music by other reviewers was an odd experience, because those descriptions were quite varied. Some heard almost exclusively Russian influence in his music, others heard Grieg and/or French music. It may well be that his musical style and language evolved as he grew. However, these songs come from different periods of his career, and they do have some similarities of harmonic language and idiom. I hear the influence of Fauré, Debussy (an almost exact contemporary), and even Ravel in some of these songs, and the presence of Grieg is never far away. But equally evident are his Russian predecessors, including Tchaikovsky, Liapunov, and Rimsky-Korsakov. These are lovely, deeply felt songs, often haunting in their beauty. The texts are drawn from a variety of Russian poets: Fyodor Tyutchev, Aleksei Tolstoy, Aleksei Apukhtin, Mikhail Lermontov, and Vladimir Solovyov
Ivanilova sings with great sensitivity and musicality, and variety of dynamic shading. The voice does turn steely under pressure, the tone is not always perfectly steady, and she doesn’t seem to have a great range of colors at her disposal, but she clearly cares about these songs and shapes them with understanding. Although I could imagine even more impact from a truly great soprano, Ivanilova makes a good case for the songs. Zassimova is present on other Catoire recordings, and plays with genuine imagination, adding a considerable value to this disc.
Anyone interested in unusual vocal repertoire, particularly in that period linking the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, is likely to find this a valuable recording. The sound is well balanced, and perhaps a bit close-in on the voice, with a bit of blasting at climaxes. A very helpful set of notes and complete texts in four languages rounds out the production.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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