COMPOSERS: Chopin,Rachmaninov,Tchaikovsky & Musorgsky; Szymanowski
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Songs by Chopin, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky & Musorgsky; Szymanowski
PERFORMER: Ewa Podleś
CATALOGUE NO: WHLive 0027
The Polish-born American singer Ewa Podleś is something of a cult figure, a true contralto of a quality rare nowadays. Her voice is huge and bronze-toned, if sometimes rather blowsy, forcefully expressive but with oddly sibilant diction. Nevertheless, strongly accompanied by veteran Garrick Ohlsson in this live Wigmore Hall recital, she shows she’s capable of keen feeling as well as thrilling sound.
It’s least evident in the Chopin songs, which even patriotic fervour cannot lift above the pleasantly anaemic; but Rachmaninov’s world-weary ‘Christ is Risen!’ is balefully effective, while the sombre lyricism of ‘She is as beautiful as noon’ is striking.
If Podleś sounds too formidable for the victimised girl in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Was I not a little blade of grass’, she makes ‘None but the lonely heart’ remarkably touching and unhackneyed, and is a fearsomely defiant gypsy in ‘Zemfira’s song’ – no wonder the audience erupts. Ohlsson’s quirky Szymanowski solos fit in very well.
Wigmore Hall Live’s last release featured Gerald Finley’s smooth, darkly nuanced account of Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. Podleś offers a diametrically opposite reading, unashamedly histrionic and flesh-creeping, and as such very exciting, especially ‘Trepak’, with its fractured dance rhythm, and ‘The Field-Marshal’, punctuated by audible foot-stamping. Altogether, a healthy reminder that power and passion still have their part in memorable Lieder performances. Michael Scott Rohan