PERFORMER: Claudia Barainsky (soprano)Axel Bauni (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: C 436 031 A
Amazingly, this is the first acceptable single-CD issue of Prokofiev’s songs. Wisely refraining for the time being from the Russian speech-melody which proclaims the composer as Mussorgsky’s natural successor, Claudia Barainsky plunges in with the long-limbed Balmont settings of Prokofiev’s first French summer. The refrain of ‘tread softly’ in the first song suggests an immediate response to the words, though beauty of tone comes first and Barainsky’s lyric soprano has no trouble singing a top C pianissimo. Later one misses a heroic-dramatic strain for Balmont’s darker incantations, and Barainsky’s Ugly Duckling is by no means as expressive or as characterisation-conscious as Victoria Yevtodieva’s lively narrative on Delos’s examplary three-CD set.
Superlative, on the other hand, are the seemingly effortless, arching phrases of the Songs without Words – the last is especially impressive – and pianist Axel Bauni’s tough, intellectual approach to the chameleonic complexities of the Op. 23 songs is more than met by his soprano; I’ve never heard the sense of ‘Under the roof’, the plaint of a downtrodden city-dweller, conveyed more vividly. The simpler and at the same time more suggestive idiom of greater poets – Akhmatova in 1917, Pushkin in 1936 – is fully reflected in the restrained pain and secret rapture of these often exquisite, always intelligent interpretations. David Nice