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Galina Vishnevskaya Sings Russian Songs

Vishnevskaya,Galina / Rostropovich,Mstislav
Release Date: 10/04/2011 
Label:  Abc Classics   Catalog #: 4802096   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GALINA VISHNEVSKAYA SINGS RUSSIAN SONGS Galina Vishnevskaya (sop); Mstislav Rostropovich (pn) DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2096 (69:15)


It’s not usually remembered when discussing her career, but Galina Vishnevskaya began singing professionally back in 1944. She made her Bolshoi debut in 1953, with Tatiana ( Yevgeney Onegin ), a role she made hers. So by 1962, when she Read more recorded the bulk of the items on this album for Decca, Vishnevskaya had already been singing for 18 years. This is no youngster, in other words, but an artist in her mid-30s at the top of her powers. It’s fair to say that she came at all music she performed from a theatrical perspective, though given the particular songs she usually chose for the concert platform, there was no loss of focus or interpretative misstep.

The Songs and Dances of Death are at once typical of her art, and exemplary in their approach. Some performers treat these four pieces as a Slavic form of Lieder, with narrative painting and characterizations that might be subtle but are definitely not bold, and ignore the fact that each work is a self-contained mini-opera. Vishnevskaya has the subtlety to offer, but never loses track of the fact that these selections take stage in the theater of the mind. “Polno pugat’sya, moi droog!” she intones in Mussorgsky’s “Lullaby,” “Don’t get frightened, my dear one!”—and you can instantly see a fat, imposing, grandmotherly babysitter, as her voice darkens and roughens slightly, the diphthongs lengthening. The swelling sugariness around the high notes (“Slashchey tebya ya spoju,” “I’ll sing sweeter than you”) cloys, followed by the mother’s slight, answering gasp as she protests—to no avail. Nor is this over-the-top characterization, for each psychological turn within the music and text finds its equivalent in Vishnevskaya’s telling. It would take far longer to analyze than it would to hear, but the result in any case is great art.

So it is in the other pieces from the work. Her Death in “The Serenade” is ardent, youthful, and arrogant, the voice again taking on colors seemingly foreign to its range; and the final cry, “Ti moya!” (“You’re mine!”) with its rise up of an octave going full out, is fearless and thrilling. The heaviness of the snowstorm around the old drunken peasant in “Trepak” is portrayed in a tone drained of vibrato, but endlessly expressive through dynamics—and Death is a seductive killer who moves quickly from tender vocal caresses to chilling commands issued to wind and snow. Notable in “The Field Marshall” is the way her voice soars without reserve in the opening section, as required to set the stage of the battle, before Mussorgsky cleverly jump-cuts to the silent graveyard that remains afterward. When Death appears as the highest military commander of all, those repeated Gs under high C, hit squarely and ringingly, have all the elemental power of an Eisenstein film.

I’ve focused here entirely on the Songs and Dances of Death , but that’s not to deny the effectiveness of the other works on the album. Three songs by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev’s Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova , recorded in the same year, show similar gifts, if on a less theatrical scale: a great voice in its prime, a dramatic interpreter equal to the best, a musician who knows when to let go to make a point, and does so. The remaining six cuts, all Tchaikovsky songs from 1969, evince signs of technical deterioration, the voice darker, the upper notes effortful, with a beat. The extra studio reverberation is unattractive and draws attention to itself, though Vishnevskaya’s artistry is intact.

But the only real negative on this album is Decca’s stinginess in not providing texts, whether the original Russian or English translations. (As Decca already had these in hand, the effort to add them would have been negligible.) Aside from that, this is a fine souvenir of an outstanding artist. And if you enjoy it, consider getting her recording of the Songs and Dances of Death in Shostakovich’s orchestration as well, with Rostropovich conducting the London Philharmonic (EMI 62830).

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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