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Russian Settings Of Robert Burns - Shostakovich, Denisov, Levitin, Etc / Savenko, Blok

Release Date: 05/12/2009 
Label:  Toccata Classics   Catalog #: 39   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gyorgy SviridovEdison DenisovDmitri ShostakovichYuri Abramovitch Levitin,   ... 
Performer:  Alexander BlokVassily Savenko
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VASSILY SAVENKO: RUSSIAN SETTINGS OF ROBERT BURNS Vassily Savenko (bs-bar); Alexander Blok (pn) TOCCATA 0039 (59:55 Text and Translation)

SVIRIDOV Nine Songs to Verses of Robert Burns. DENISOV Two Songs to Verses by Robert Burns. SHOSTAKOVICH Six Romances for Bass: Three Songs. Read more class="COMPOSER12"> LEVITIN Song-Cycle to Verses by Robert Burns. KHRENNIKOV Three Songs to Verses by Robert Burns

For reasons more complicated than are needed here (but are explored in very interesting and provocative notes by Andrew Noble accompanying this disc), Robert Burns’s poetry was wildly popular in middle and late 20th-century Russia, leading many composers to set translations to music. This intelligently programmed disc gives us 22 such songs by a wide range of composers. All were composed in the 1940s and 1950s.

We are most familiar with Shostakovich’s idiom—probably less so with some or all of the others. Some of Gyorgy Svirdiov’s songs are simple and melodically appealing for the most part, though “Findlay” is more experimental in nature, with a pointillistic piano part underlining the rather mysterious, even eerie, nature of the poem, and others are dark and dramatic. We might expect Denisov’s to be the most experimental, but the songs here are very early works (written when he was 22) and they are lyrical and uncomplicated, though very beautiful. His setting of “Jenny” (“Comin’ thro’ the Rye”) is positively jaunty. Shostakovich’s setting of the same song has a bit more of a bite to it, and Shostakovich’s setting of “McPherson before his Execution” is absolutely harrowing. The composer least familiar to me here is Yuri Levitin (1912-1993), and his songs are attractive, tuneful, and the most simple. They could almost be heard as Russian folk songs, though they are a bit more sophisticated than that. An imaginative melodic flair raises them above the level of the ordinary. I’m not sure anything does the same for Tikhon Khrennikov’s songs. These too seem straightforward and simple, with neither the melodic distinction one finds in the Levitin nor the musical unpredictability and/or originality of voice that one hears in the Shostakovich, Denisov, and Sviridov.

Vassily Savenko would appear to be the ideal singer for this repertoire; born in Ukraine, forming his career in Russia, then moving to Britain where he now lives. He combines the words and music with complete identification. His voice lacks the tonal richness of the greatest of basses or bass-baritones, but it is pleasant enough, and is married to an intelligence and musical sensitivity that we do not encounter all that often. He sounds more like a bass to me than a bass-baritone, and lets out a ringing high F? at the end of the final song. Alexander Blok’s keyboard partnership is more than mere accompanying—he provides plenty of color and shape to the songs. The sound is well balanced, and neither too close nor too distant. In addition to the excellent notes explaining Burns’s place in Russian culture that I referred to earlier, there is an equally informative essay on Burns and these composers by Stuart Campbell. A final touch worthy of praise: Toccata provides the Cyrillic original, the original Burns’s poems, and then a modern English translation of the Russian translation of those poems. Recommended for anyone with an interest in off-the-beaten-path vocal repertoire.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Burns Songs by Gyorgy Sviridov
Performer:  Alexander Blok (Piano), Vassily Savenko (Bass Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; Russia 
Songs (5) on poems of Robert Burns by Edison Denisov
Performer:  Alexander Blok (Piano), Vassily Savenko (Bass Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Songs (6), Op. 62 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Alexander Blok (Piano), Vassily Savenko (Bass Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942; USSR 
Song-Cycle by Yuri Abramovitch Levitin
Performer:  Alexander Blok (Piano), Vassily Savenko (Bass Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Songs (5) on poems of Robert Burns by Tikhon Khrennikov
Performer:  Alexander Blok (Piano), Vassily Savenko (Bass Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 

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