Mussorgsky: Songs, Vol. 4: Gopak; Hebrew Song; Night

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: Songs, Vol. 4: Gopak; Hebrew Song; Night
PERFORMER: Sergei Leiferkus (baritone), Semion Skigin, Vovka Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 75605 51274 2
Conifer’s complete Mussorgsky songs got off to an outstanding start in 1995 with a CD that included both Songs and Dances of Death and The Nursery. But using the best songs first is ill-advised (a problem avoided by Chandos in its chronologically presented Rachmaninov edition), and by this recording, the last in the series, there’s a sense that the material doesn’t amount to a satisfying recital. There are some fascinating pieces: the exhilarating ‘Gopak’, the evocative ‘Hebrew Song’, the rapturous Pushkin-inspired ‘Night’, a rare Heine setting. But half an hour is devoted to short, forgettable piano works (played by Vovka Ashkenazy), and they have the effect of rather leaden makeweights. (Oddly, this CD is more lavishly packaged than its predecessors, with slipcase and booklet, as though to compensate.)

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The performances, however, make up for a lot. Leiferkus is the pre-eminent interpreter of this repertoire. I’m running out of original adjectives to describe his superb, distinctive baritone, but the usual ones apply: flexible, incisive, absolutely precise both in its articulation and in his delineation of character. As with the rest of this series, the voice is recorded more prominently than the piano, which seems appropriate – Skigin is an accomplished pianist; Leiferkus a great singer – but not everyone will approve of the balance. Claire Wrathall