Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich & Britten

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky,Prokofiev,Shostakovich & Britten
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Russian Songs
WORKS: Songs by Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich & Britten
PERFORMER: Joan Rodgers (soprano), Roger Vignoles (piano)
Joan Rodgers’s live recitals of Russian song, and her earlier Tchaikovsky album for Hyperion, set up high expectations for this disc of four song cycles which have become classics of the repertoire. And it does not disappoint. As soon as Rodgers and Roger Vignoles tiptoe into Mussorgsky’s Nursery, the soprano’s instinctive ease in the inflection of the language, and Vignoles’s sharp-eyed observation of every passing detail, make for an irresistibly intimate performance. Rodgers lacks the fiercer areas in her voice which some Russian sopranos are able to exploit for the voice of the Nanny, and for the odd tantrum. But she captures perfectly childhood’s rapid shifts between intense engagement with reality and the drift into dream. For Anna Akhmatova and Prokofiev, Rodgers is imaginative enough to evoke what is not there and what, perhaps, has never been, in these songs of oblique longing. She and Vignoles are particularly shrewd in uncovering situations glimpsed, as it were, behind the song. This makes for canny cameos of certain ‘types’ in Shostakovich’s Satires; though no one but a native Russian can, I suspect, reach the true heart of dark, despairing anger in ‘Descendants’, the composer’s anti-utopia invective. Where Britten and Pushkin meet, in The Poet’s Echo, Rodgers and Vignoles reassure us that Britten himself has provided the Poet with the Echo he fails to receive from the outside world. Hilary Finch