Borodin/Dargomizhsky

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Borodin/Dargomizhsky
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Sergei Leiferkus (baritone); Semion Skigin (piano); Leonid Gorokhov (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 75605 51275 2
One of the great singers of his generation, Leiferkus seems set on recording the entire 19th-century Russian song repertoire. Having recorded all Mussorgsky’s songs (for Conifer), contributed to Chandos’s three-part Rachmaninov edition and embarked on a complete Tchaikovsky, he has paused to consider Dargomizhsky and Borodin.

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Leiferkus’s signal talent is his ability not simply to dramatise songs but to inhabit them. And Dargomizhsky’s character-driven satirical pieces provide an ideal platform. His ‘Old Corporal’, smoking a last pipe before the firing squad, has real pathos as he rallies the soldiers who will kill him; while in ‘Worm’ he is obsequiousness perfected.

These are preceded by a set of Borodin’s attractive, if sometimes derivative (shades of Mussorgsky without the subtlety), romansi. ‘For the shores of thy far native land’ echoes Schumann’s ‘Ich grolle nicht’ (acknowledged, perhaps, by Borodin’s reluctance to have it published during his lifetime). But the best – ‘The Sea Princess’ with its undulating accompaniment, or the mordant yet comic ‘At People’s Houses’ – are striking.

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Leiferkus’s rich baritone is too distinctive to be truly beautiful and there are moments when its sheer power threatens to overwhelm the piano, but he is such an expressive, articulate performer that there can be no one better suited to these songs. Claire Wrathall