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Elisabeth Soderstrom - The Russian Songbook

Soderstrom,Elisabeth / Ashkenazy,Vladimir
Release Date: 08/02/2011 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4802067   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich TchaikovskyModest MussorgskySergei ProkofievAlexander Grechaninov
Performer:  Elisabeth SöderströmVladimir Ashkenazy
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



TCHAIKOVSKY Songs: op. 6/1, 5, 6; op. 16/1, 4; op. 25/2; op.27/4; op. 28/3, 6; op. 38/2, 3; op. 47/1, 6, 7; op. 54/4, 8, 9; op. 57/3; op. 60/1, 4, 5, 10; op. 63/4, 6; op. 65/1, 2, 4–6; op. 73/1, 4. Mezza notte. My Protector, My Angel. Zemfira’s Song. To Forget So Soon. Spirit My Heart Away. MUSSORGSKY The Nursery. PROKOFIEV The Ugly Duckling. GRECHANINOV The Lane Read more class="ARIAL12"> Elisabeth Söderström (sop); Vladimir Ashkenazy (pn) DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2067 (2 CDs: 130:30)


The late Elisabeth Söderström was a singer widely admired especially for her expressive and dramatic capabilities, although some had reservations about the sound of her voice. No such reservations are supported by the present recital, for here her sound has much beauty as well as a wide range of expressive colorations, with bright, bell-like tone, beautifully floated high notes, and a flowing melodic line. The selections on these discs were recorded over a five-year period, from 1977 through 1982, when Söderström was in her early-50s. Her voice and technique remain in good shape, although I do detect a slight decline in tonal solidity and focus in the recordings made at the end of the period.


About three-quarters of this set is devoted to Tchaikovsky, and the 36 songs offered here, comprising roughly a third of his output in this genre and including some of the best-known items, make a good case for the composer as a significant contributor to the art song repertoire. The selection on these discs includes five songs to French texts (the op. 65) and one in Italian. High in melodic inspiration, expressive, and often very affecting, Tchaikovsky’s songs are predominantly lyrical. Like the majority of 19th-century song texts, the verses most often deal with the joys and sorrows of romantic love and are sometimes dismissed as sentimental. Let those who have never experienced joy in love or anguish when it is denied or withdrawn cast the first rhetorical stone. Söderström’s interpretations of these songs, taken on their own, are thoroughly convincing, but it is interesting to compare her bright, radiant sound in this repertoire with the darker, heavier timbre of Russian singers like Ljuba Kazarnovskaya and Zara Dolukhanova. Different volumes of Kazarnovskaya’s five-disc complete survey for Naxos were reviewed very favorably by Peter J. Rabinowitz ( Fanfare 23:6), very unfavorably by George Jellinek (25:1), and somewhat favorably by Richard A. Kaplan (32:1). I side with Rabinowitz on this issue. Some reviewers have complained about Kazarnovskaya’s vibrato, but I find it usually well controlled and not a problem. With her larger, more powerful voice, Kazarnovskaya tends toward more deliberation and flexibility of tempo, often achieving great intensity in the process, and she, too, has a wide range of coloration. A four-disc Guild set devoted to Dolukhanova’s artistry includes 13 Tchaikovsky songs, seven of which are also performed by Söderström. Dolukhanova tends to be a bit quicker in overall tempo, urgent and forceful, and more selective in her use of rubato. Her mezzo voice contributes a darker coloration, with much expressive shading.


In Serenade (op. 63/6), which is actually a lullaby addressed to a child, Söderström is tender and expressive, with a smooth legato delivery and deft use of rubato to shape the phrases. Dolukhanova is slightly quicker and takes a more metrical approach to tempo, reserving her expansions for a few selected points. Kazarnovskaya is more deliberate than either, adding more than a minute to Dolukhanova’s timing, and offers the most highly inflected of the three interpretations, with more liberal use of rubato and a tendency to broaden the tempo in peaks. In the early Zemfira’s Song (from Pushkin’s Aleko ), in which the protagonist defies a husband who will eventually kill her for her infidelity, Söderström is fiery and dramatic, lacking nothing in power and once again making abundant use of rubato. She also has the most youthful sound for this impersonation of a young woman. An interesting feature of the performance is the inclusion of some spoken dialog, the husband’s part presumably delivered by Söderström’s accompanist, Vladimir Ashkenazy. Dolukhanova is again urgent and comparatively straightforward in tempo, with sparing use of rubato. Ewa Podle? (Forlane), with her huge voice, sounds so formidable that Aleko could well be the one in danger here, but in the lines expressing Zemfira’s feelings for her young lover she deftly scales down her voice and forcefulness in an effective display of tenderness. In The Fearful Moment (op.28/6), to the composer’s own text, Söderström employs a variety of vocal colorations and elasticity of tempo to good expressive effect. Kazarnovskaya is again more deliberate, still more flexible in tempo, and sounds more anguished and desperate. One also notices her stronger chest tone and solid low notes. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Philips) has an inherent advantage here, since the protagonist in these verses of a suitor anxiously awaiting acceptance or rejection is clearly male. With a timing midway between the other two singers, he is more assertive, more demanding than pleading, and also projects the text with exceptional clarity. In It Was Early Spring (op. 38/2), to a poem by Aleksei Tolstoy, Söderström is the quickest and most straightforward in her delivery, but seems comparatively gentle and sweetly feminine, although the text once again shows that the protagonist is male. Here Dolukhanova is more deliberate and more flexible, with a pronounced broadening of tempo to underline certain words. Kazarnovskaya, with a timing almost identical to that of Dolukhanova, is equally effective and moving.


Mussorgsky’s Nursery cycle requires the singer to impersonate a mischievous child for most of its duration but at some points also the child’s nurse and mother. Söderström does so effectively and without excessive cuteness, cultivating three distinct voices for the three personages involved. She dramatizes the songs effectively, using a wide range of tempi, while Ashkenazy is a more assertive partner here than in the Tchaikovsky songs. Ewa Podle? (on the same Forlane disc mentioned above) is able to scale down her large voice to an equally effective representation of the child, who in her rendition is somewhat more relaxed and less excitable. Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling , an early work from 1914, sets the composer’s own adaptation of the familiar Hans Christian Andersen tale. Like the Mussorgsky work, it is predominantly declamatory and has an active and assertive piano part. The text intersperses narration with comments by various farmyard characters and is made to order for Söderström’s dramatic capabilities. Dolukhanova (in the Guild set mentioned above) goes still further in dramatizing the narrative, through variation of tempo and vocal coloration. She enunciates the text more clearly than Söderström but has a more reticent accompanist in Berta Kozel.


Alexander Grechaninov (1864–1956) is the least-known of the composers represented here, although his music is gradually receiving greater attention. I had never before heard the five children’s songs offered here. A recording including two of them was reviewed by Robert Kirzinger in Fanfare 28:2, but no other recordings appear to be available. Within the limits of their modest scale and uncomplicated idiom, they are pleasing and evocative. Söderström dispatches them with sensitivity and verve.


Readers who have grown tired of my carping about faulty Russian pronunciation by non-Russian singers will be relieved to know that I have little to criticize in that of Söderström. Her mother, after all, was Russian, although a native-speaker parent is not a guarantee of linguistic proficiency. (Russian was the native language of my maternal grandparents, but my mother didn’t learn it.) I do sometimes feel that her projection of the words could be clearer, as it generally is in the renditions of the other singers I have cited for comparison. Vladimir Ashkenazy is predictably a fully equal partner and a sympathetic one, providing accompaniments that are precise, sensitive, nuanced, and properly scaled, and making a significant contribution to the success of these performances. Sound quality on these discs is generally good, although excess reverberation is sometimes noticeable, especially in the Mussorgsky selection, the earliest of the recordings collected here. The complete lack of texts, even via download, is a more serious drawback, and I have no doubt that texts were included with the original LP releases.


Notwithstanding these reservations, I recommend this set as a worthy memento of a fine singer and as a rewarding representation of Tchaikovsky’s contribution to the art-song repertoire, with the other interesting items thrown in for good measure.


FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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Works on This Recording

1.
Zemfira's Song by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1855-1860; Russia 
2.
To forget so soon by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; Russia 
3.
Take my heart away by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873; Russia 
4.
Songs (7), Op. 47: no 6, Does the day reign? by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Russia 
5.
Songs (7), Op. 47: no 1, If I had only known by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Russia 
6.
Songs (6), Op. 73: no 4, The sun has set by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Russia 
7.
Songs (6), Op. 6: no 6, None but the lonely heart by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1869; Russia 
8.
Songs (6), Op. 6: no 1, Do not believe, my friend by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1869; Russia 
9.
Songs (6), Op. 65: no 5, Les larmes by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Russia 
10.
Songs (6), Op. 65: no 4, Qu'importe que l'hiver by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Russia 
11.
Songs (6), Op. 65: no 2, Déception by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Russia 
12.
Songs (6), Op. 65: no 1, Où vas-tu, souffle d'aurore by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Russia 
13.
Songs (6), Op. 38: no 3, Amid the din of the ball by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Russia 
14.
Songs (6), Op. 38: no 2, It was in early spring by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Russia 
15.
Songs (6), Op. 28: no 6, The fearful minute by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; Russia 
16.
Songs (6), Op. 28: no 3, Why did I dream of you? by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; Russia 
17.
Songs (6), Op. 27: no 4, Evening by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; Russia 
18.
Songs (6), Op. 25: no 2, As o'er the burning ashes by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874-1875; Russia 
19.
Songs (6), Op. 16: no 5, Thy Radiant Image by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; Russia 
20.
Songs (6), Op. 16: no 4, O sing that song by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; Russia 
21.
Songs (6), Op. 16: no 1, Cradle song by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
22.
Songs (12), Op. 60: no 5, Simple words by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Russia 
23.
Songs (12), Op. 60: no 4, The nightingale by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Russia 
24.
Songs (12), Op. 60: no 1, Last night by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Russia 
25.
My protector, my angel, my friend by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1855; Russia 
26.
Mezza notte by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1855-1860; Russia 
27.
Children's Songs (16), Op. 54: no 8, The cuckoo by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; Russia 
28.
Children's Songs (16), Op. 54: no 9, Spring by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
29.
Songs (7), Op. 47: no 7, Was I not a little blade of grass? by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Russia 
30.
Songs (6), Op. 73: no 1, We sat together by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Russia 
31.
Songs (6), Op. 65: no 6, Rondel by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Russia 
32.
Songs (6), Op. 63: no 6, O child, beneath thy window by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Russia 
33.
Songs (6), Op. 63: no 4, The first meeting by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Russia 
34.
Songs (6), Op. 57: no 3, Do not ask by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884; Russia 
35.
Songs (12), Op. 60: no 10, Behind the window in the shadow by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Russia 
36.
Children's Songs (16), Op. 54: no 4, My little garden by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; Russia 
37.
The nursery by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868-1872; Russia 
38.
Ugly Duckling, Op. 18 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; USSR 
39.
Children's Songs, Op. 89 by Alexander Grechaninov
Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)

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