Collection: Songs by the Mighty Handful

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Balakirev & Mussorgsky,Borodin,Cul,Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Cul, Borodin, Balakirev & Mussorgsky
PERFORMER: Sergei Larin (tenor)Eleonora Bekova (piano)


The lyric tenor Sergei Larin has a noble, versatile voice that stretches comfortably from a rich, robust chest register to a delicate falsetto that he exploits alluringly in Rimsky-Korsakov’s wistful ‘Nymph’. But he is not a naturally expressive performer, and though he makes a sterling attempt to characterise these songs, the results are inclined to be stagy, effortful or awkwardly inappropriate: the growl at the end of the ‘Lullaby’ that begins Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, or the vocal flailing that marks the final, devastating song in the sequence, ‘Field Marshal". But if Larin compares unfavourably with some singers to have ventured recently into this once-neglected repertoire (Borodina, Leiferkus, Hvorostovsky among the star Russians, and others besides), this disc stands out for two reasons.


First, of the 500 or so songs written by the Mighty Handful – Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky — the 21 here are among the most atmospheric and rapturous (my favourites, at least). And second, for Eleonora Bekova’s inspired performance at the piano. If Latin’s expressiveness suggests melodrama, she more than compensates, with playing that is revelatory both in the moods it evokes and in textures and layers it exposes. And if his phrasing is occasionally hurried and unsubtle, her ability to suffuse even a pause with significance is profound. Claire Wrathall