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The Poet’s Echo

Gemma Summerfield (soprano), Gareth Brynmor John (baritone), Abi Hyde-Smith (cello), Jocelyn Freeman (piano) (Rubicon)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

The Poet’s Echo
Britten: The Poet’s Echo; Prokofiev: Three Pushkin Romances; Shostakovich: Cello Sonata; Four Pushkin Romances
Gemma Summerfield (soprano), Gareth Brynmor John (baritone), Abi Hyde-Smith (cello), Jocelyn Freeman (piano)
Rubicon RCD 1115   65:33 mins

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The poet is the great Russian Alexander Pushkin, and his echoes reach across the 20th century, first with Soviet settings from 1937 marking the 100th anniversary of his death, then with Britten’s 1965 cycle, written at a composer’s retreat in Armenia for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata is included as well, and in further honour of Rostropovich’s instrument The Poet’s Echo is presented in an arrangement that teases out a cello line from Britten’s piano part: a sweet aural salute to his friend, though the results still leave the piano dominant.

In any case the album’s main glory is the singing of Gemma Summerfield, a soprano endowed with a firm technique and an intense tone with laser-beam attributes even on high. Phrasing and expression are excellent, too.

Besides her, Abi Hyde-Smith’s cello, though technically adroit, lacks some personality. Thrust and punch enter with the puckish finale of Shostakovich’s stylistically cautious 1934 Sonata, but her comparative docility elsewhere doesn’t make this account one of the best available. The dark lustre of Gareth Brynmor John’s baritone is put to good use in the gloomier matter of Shostakovich’s four Pushkin settings.

Jocelyn Freeman’s piano contributions vary along with the music played. She’s wonderfully subtle in Prokofiev’s haunting first song, but spends its comic successor boringly jogging alongside the vocal line. In terms of musical value, Britten and Prokofiev come out on top overall, while Shostakovich at least rewards the attention of those seeking reflections of his personal life in what he wrote.

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Geoff Brown