Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death; Sunless; The Peepshow; The Nursery; Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs and Dances of Death; Sunless; The Peepshow; The Nursery; Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea
PERFORMER: Anatoli Safiulin (bass); Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66775 DDD
The song cycle Sunless, present on both these issues, suffices for comparison: how much more animation is brought to both music and words by Leiferkus’s flexible dramatic baritone than by Safiulin’s husky bass. Leiferkus adds a well-varied selection (including the bloodthirsty Ukrainian patriotism of ‘On the Dnieper’) to make up this second disc (rather short-spanned) of his projected recording of all Mussorgsky’s songs for Conifer. The first disc drew a double-five-star rating award in these columns last May. If I deduct one star here, it is because the voice stands out slightly too prominently from the piano.

Advertisement

The voice-and-piano balance on Safiulin’s disc is excellent, with Demidenko a magnificent partner. It has the seeming advantage of embracing on one disc all three of Mussorgsky’s celebrated song cycles and the even more famous ‘Song of the Flea’, as well as the composer’s 13-minute satire on his musical opponents, The Peepshow. But the quality of voice disappoints, except in the charming child-impersonations of The Nursery. Conifer’s printed translations are excellent, Hyperion’s a travesty – ‘Hear the skylark singing’ for ‘The doves are flying’. Arthur Jacobs