Chopin: Polish Songs; Mazurkas (arr. Viardot)

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Polish Songs; Mazurkas (arr. Viardot)
PERFORMER: Urszula Kryger (mezzo-soprano), Charles Spencer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67125
Chopin never considered himself a serious composer of songs. Of the 30 or so he wrote, none was published during his lifetime, and only 19 (two based on the same Zaleski poem) are still in existence. For this recital, the entire oeuvre has been arranged by the performers into two impressively coherent Liederkreise, the first a loose ‘cycle’ of love songs; the second focusing on more heroic themes, some in the tradition of folksong or ballad. The disc also includes five of Chopin’s mazurkas in arrangements by the great 19th-century mezzo Pauline Viardot, who commissioned words from a French poet and embellished the music with her own florid ornamentation and cadenzas.

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Perhaps inevitably, the piano is to the fore in these songs, and Charles Spencer’s virtuosic performance makes a compelling case for them, especially such pieces as the Schubertian ‘Wojak’, with its galloping rhythm depicting the warrior of the title as he rides off to battle, or the disquieting ‘Narzeczony’ (‘The Bridegroom’) with its atmosphere of ‘Erlkönig’, and a prelude that looks forward in style to Mussorgsky.

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Urszula Kryger has that quintessentially Slavonic, rather silvery soprano, with an impressive mezza voce, that is touchingly expressive in the melancholic, elegiac songs, but not quite robust enough in the tougher, more dramatic roles. Claire Wrathall