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Russian Songs / Joan Rodgers, Roger Vignoles

Release Date: 10/12/2004 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67355   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Modest MussorgskySergei ProkofievDmitri ShostakovichBenjamin Britten
Performer:  Roger VignolesJoan Rodgers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I’d begun to feel lately that one of the casualties of the Soviet collapse had been the indigenous singing tradition of the romance and classical song repertoire. In recital after recital that I’ve heard, the theatrical intensity of such artists as Reizen, Gmyrya, Obouhova, Khromchenko, and Vishnevskaya (to name only a few) has been replaced by a polite restraint more appropriate to German Lieder. Joan Rodgers, fortunately, redresses the stylistic balance. She has all the traditional, expressive intensity that one could desire, married to a fine voice and a deep understanding of the music.

I was impressed with an earlier release by Rodgers devoted to the songs of Rachmaninoff (Chandos CHAN 9644). But where that collection was
Read more predominantly lyrical in mode and melancholy in mood, this one places a greater emphasis upon Rodgers’s abilities as a dramatic interpreter of kaleidoscopic emotional variety. That is never more apparent than in a collection of seven songs finished by Mussorgsky in 1872 and published as Detskaya (“Nursery”). It gives us snapshots of a small child taken from a typical day: a lullaby to a doll, a bedtime prayer, a retold encounter with a beetle, etc. As the child reacts with vibrant immediacy to every turn of events, the singer has to be able to shift reactions mercurially, often from line to line. Rodgers accomplishes this with obvious relish (that must have been achieved through an enormous amount of work). There is no more sense of condescension in her treatment than there is in the songs, themselves, where the composer’s gift for empathizing musically with his characters comes brilliantly to the fore. Enunciation, too, is excellent.

A beautiful voice isn’t required for any of the songs on this disk, and many of the pieces frankly downplay any qualities that would evince this. But there are more than enough hints of Rodgers’s gifts in this vein throughout the album. The opening of “Na son gradushchiy,” the Evening Prayer from Mussorgsky’s Nursery collection, retains an appropriate childlike coloration, but provides a sense of the singer’s beautiful emission of sound. The low tessitura of Prokofiev’s Seroglazïy korol’ (“The gray-eyed king”) brings forth a rich, mezzo sound without any admixture of amplification from the chest. His Pamyat’ o solntse (“Thoughts of the sunlight”) displays Rogers’s fine ability to bow the legato line, while Solntse komnatu napolnilo (“Sunlight filled the room”) is both rapturously expressive and reveals a slow, wonderfully controlled diminuendo on its final syllable. She takes the broad intervals of Shostakovich’s Produzhdeniye vesnï (“Spring Awakening”) and Britten’s Ekho (“Echo”) with complete ease and perfect intonation. The former’s Nedorazumeniye (“Misunderstanding”) in turn furnishes a satirical story (a sentimental, hackneyed, 19th-century parlor romance) that’s sung without over-indulging the malice of the text. At no point in this recital is there any sense of pushing, or indeed, of calling upon reserves. There is always a feeling of complete ease and full, authoritative communication.

Roger Vignoles provides sensitive accompaniments, with Hyperion supplying a realistic sound environment that avoids over-reverberance. Decent liner notes are furnished by Jonathan Powell, and English texts alongside transliterated Russian ones for all songs.

Highly recommended. I hope Hyperion secures Rodgers for an exhaustive series of Russian song releases. EMI did as much with Christoff in the 1950s, and in this soprano, I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to state we just may have found his equal for the repertoire.

Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

The nursery by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Joan Rodgers (Soprano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868-1872; Russia 
Poems (5) of Anna Akhmatova, Op. 27 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Joan Rodgers (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; USSR 
Satires (5), Op. 109 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Joan Rodgers (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; USSR 
The Poet's Echo, Op. 76 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Joan Rodgers (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; USSR 

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