Prokofiev: Songs and Romances (complete)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Songs and Romances (complete)
PERFORMER: Victoria Yevtodieva (soprano), Lyubov Sokolova (mezzo-soprano), Konstantin Pluzhnikov (tenor), Andrey Slavny (baritone), Sergei Aleksashkin (bass), Yuri Serov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3275
This embarrassment of riches remedies a dire situation for Prokofiev song on disc; previously, the choice lay between a handful of elusive classic performances from Vishnevskaya and the mezzo Zara Dolkhanova and most of the rest blowsily travestied by Carole Farley. Now we have nearly everything the composer wrote for voice and piano, carefully distributed between five distinguished Russian singers who could do without the excessively close miking the recording engineers seem to think they need.

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Naturalness of declamation, Mussorgsky-style, is vital in the young Prokofiev’s experimental song-writing. Soprano Victoria Yevtodieva tells the story of the Ugly Duckling with perfect poise between childlike simplicity and full-voiced narrative, while baritone Andrey Slavny effortlessly holds our attention through the lengthy plaint of a poor city-dweller before the Op. 23 songs sink into self-conscious modernism (and some horrible intonation, inevitably, from Konstantin Pluzhnikov – an old trooper who might have been complemented by a younger, fresher tenor). Each of the three discs balances as best it can these earlier settings of great and good poets with an excess of ‘hail-to-Stalin’ hack-work from Prokofiev’s time back in the USSR – none of the big, distinctive melodies of his large-scale Soviet works here – and a restorative tonic in distinctive folksong arrangements, where mezzo Lyubov Sokolova holds compelling sway as Mother Russia. So much at once, inevitably, is indigestible; explore at leisure. David Nice