Glinka & Rachmaninov; Shostakovich, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev

COMPOSERS: Glinka & Rachmaninov; Shostakovich,Mussorgsky,Prokofiev,Rimsky-Korsakov,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: DG; EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Vishnevskaya & Rostropovich , Galina Vishnevskaya
WORKS: Songs; Songs and Opera Arias
PERFORMER: Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Mstislav Rostropovich (piano); Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Mstislav Rostropovich (piano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6195; 365 0082
Galina Vishnevskaya, the great Russian soprano, celebrated her 80th birthday this October. EMI and DG mark the event with recordings made during the 1970s, providing a complementary four CDs worth of core Russian song repertoire with a few arias thrown in for good measure. Although by that time the steel familiar from Vishnevskaya’s classic 1962 recording of Britten’s War Requiem had lost some of its cut and the familiar vibrato spreads under pressure, she could still muster the luminous soft singing which was another part of her tonal armoury, and it is this which launches the Rachmaninov selection on DG.

Advertisement

‘Spring Waters’, though, sounds like the wild romantic splurge parodied in the second of Shostakovich’s Five Satires, and indeed the Shostakovich portion of the EMI set has too much stridency for comfort.

Rostropovich’s piano accompaniments are extremely subtle throughout, with some lovely turns of phrase in Prokofiev’s arrangements of Russian folksongs on EMI’s CD 3. The reason for investing in that set, however, is the Musorgsky sequence which launches it. Vishnevskaya manages the folk-inspired numbers at its heart with a more flamboyant impersonation of the popular style than she dared in earlier recordings from the 1960s, though here it is never excessive.

‘Where art thou, little star’ provides a perfect example of her restrained intensity; and the farewell of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sea Princess from Sadko is equally bewitching. Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, with the Shostakovich orchestration atmospherically done by Rostropovich and the LPO, receive a definitive performance: no other singer has in my experience projected the different voices or the stentorian command of death a fieldmarshal with such authority.

Advertisement

All the more reason, then, for listeners understanding what this word-conscious singer is delivering; and yet neither company offers us texts in any shape or form. I’m sure the redoubtable Galina, still very active on the musical scene, would have more than a word or two to say about that. David Nice