Medtner, Grechaninov, Tchaikovsky, Cui, Kalinnikov, Bortnyansky, Rubinstein, Alexandrov, Borodin & Glinka

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COMPOSERS: Alexandrov,Borodin & Glinka,Bortnyansky,Cui,Grechaninov,Kalinnikov,Medtner,Rubinstein,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Western Poets in Russian Music, Vol. 3 Ð Eternity
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Sergei Larin (tenor), Eleonora Bekova (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9906
The final volume of Chandos’s intriguing survey of neglected Russian settings of Western texts features ten ‘cosmopolitanist’ composers ranging chronologically from Bortnyansky (1751-1825) to Alexandrov (1888-1982), embracing both the famous (Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Glinka) and obscure (Kalinnikov). United by themes of death and immortality, the poems are French, Italian and German, while one, Rubinstein’s ‘Die Thräne’, is a German translation of Thomas Moore’s poem ‘The Tear’. It’s a fascinating programme, not least because musically these songs seem so strikingly un-Russian (the odd guttural consonant notwithstanding), the music mostly reflecting the idiom of whichever language inspired them. Cui’s atmospheric Leconte de Lisle setting ‘Le colibri’ or Alexandrov’s gorgeously plaintive and languorous ‘Les feuilles mortes’, with its subtle evocation of footsteps and falling leaves in the piano part, are mélodies in all but name, while Medtner’s inspired settings of Goethe and Heine are plainly in the German Romantic tradition.

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There are tenor voices lovelier than Sergei Larin’s rather dry, sometimes forced sound – though his chest register is rich and burnished, and he is a versatile linguist. But though attentive to the words, he is not naturally expressive, and his stresses are sometimes unsubtle and contrived. Eleonora Bekova, however, is a first-rate pianist who more than compensates with a performance of outstanding sensitivity, intelligence and grace. Claire Wrathall