Sergey Prokofiev is acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s greatest composers, and his enduring popularity today rests on a rich legacy of orchestral and chamber works. Less well known are his songs, which display a lyrical component that suited his liking for clear and simple forms. This can be heard particularly in Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, but all of these pieces show Prokofiev to be a worthy successor of the great 19th-century tradition of art songs. Margarita Gritskova’s voice was described by Opera News as ‘a spectacular instrument’ in her recording of Russian Songs previously released on Naxos.
A member of the Wiener Staatsoper since 2012, the young Russian mezzo-soprano Margarita Gritskova follows up her stunning 2019 Naxos recital debut (a mixed program of Russian songs) with an equally commanding all-Prokofiev program. Compared to his symphonic and theatrical output, Prokofiev’s prowess as a song composer gets little attention. Happily, Gritskova selects a judicious range of works.
The Ugly Duckling, for example, is a veritable monodrama encompassing dramatic peaks and valleys, while the second and third songs from Op. 27 exemplify Prokofiev’s underrated lyrical gifts in their most tender estate. On the other hand, The Little Grey Dress (Op. 23 No. 2) gives us Prokofiev’s mercurial side, where dissonant pathways give occasional way to melodic respite.
Gritskova and Prokofiev are an ideal match. Her dark timbre and effortless elocution seem tailor-made for the composer’s idiom. She negotiates wide interval leaps with the utmost ease (The Chatterbox), and floats the Lieutenant Kijé excerpt’s long lines with the most ravishingly supple legato. What is more, the sheer beauty and flexibility of Gritskova’s vocalism go hand in hand with her instinct for word painting. It is for this reason that I regret that nearly half of the texts and translations could not be replicated in the booklet due to copyright restrictions. Pianist Maria Prinz is every inch the precisionist and colorist as the singer she supports.
Various Prokofiev songs have appeared on a handful of compilations here and there (notably the 5 Poems of Anna Akhmatova, with Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich from the late-’60s), and a possibly-hard-to-source survey of Prokofiev’s complete songs from 20 years ago (featuring several Russian singers), but listeners coming to this repertoire anew will find a perfect guide in Gritskova.
– ClassicsToday (Jed Distler)