ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Romance Ð Western Poets in Russian Music, Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Sergei Larin (tenor); Eleonora Bekova (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9841
Don’t let the heavily airbrushed cover put you off – this is a fascinating collection, a worthy successor to the first volume in a series exploring the offbeat repertoire of German, French and Italian settings by Russian composers. Western languages were a fashion accessory in cultured Russian society before the revolution, yet several Russian composers had roots in the West. Anton Rubinstein and Medtner are examples, and the latter’s ‘Liebliches Kind’ is a striking song that shares some good qualities with his piano music. Tchaikovsky had French blood on his mother’s side, and though the two numbers represented here may lack his most individual stamp, they reflect the influence of French song.
Another French-connected composer was Cui, poor relation of ‘The Five’: his ‘Ici Bas’ is a miniature masterpiece, even if Larin does not quite capture all its longing. Glinka’s Italian settings receive some of the most enjoyable performances, with Dargomizhsky’s generous melodies following not far behind. Anyone who loves Kalinnikov’s symphonies will be intrigued by his appearance here. Glière and Bortnyansky complete the line-up of nine composers presented in no apparent order. Larin’s tenor occasionally sounds too big for this music, but he sings with easy fluency and Eleonora Bekova ensures that even the simplest accompaniment never sounds dull. John Allison