ALBUM TITLE: Collection: English Poets, Russian Romances
PERFORMER: Vassily Savenko (bass-baritone), Alexander Blok (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67274
Despite the wealth of their own poetic literature, Russian composers have always found great inspiration in foreign poetry. The recent survey by Sergei Larin and Eleonora Bekova on Chandos, Western Poets in Russian Music, shows how composers set French, German and Italian words. This interesting new issue features Russian translations of English poets, and illustrates a fascination with a sensibility that must verge on the ‘exotic’, not just on the part of the composers but also the translators themselves, who in this selection include Pushkin, Lermontov and Pasternak, no less. The programme ranges from Glinka to Kabalevsky, and Vassily Savenko brings out its variety using all the colours of his rich bass-baritone.
Shelley and Byron dominate, with the former exercising strong appeal over Arensky in his vocal suite Recollection, beautifully flowing reveries of regret, and turning up in several Taneyev settings; Taneyev’s ‘The Islet’ almost stands comparison with Rachmaninoff’s more famous version. Byron (himself drawn to Russia) provided Rimsky-Korsakov with texts, as well as Balakirev in his exotically tinged ‘Hebrew Melody’ and Mussorgsky’s declamatory ‘Tsar Saul’. Kabalevsky’s settings of Shakespeare’s sonnets are not overlooked, and another sonnet is drawn from Shostakovich’s Six Romances on Verses by British Poets, which also includes a short and quirky version of ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’. John Allison