PERFORMER: Joan Rodgers (soprano)Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9644 Reissue (1996)
Drawing together on one disc Joan Rodgers’s contributions to Chandos’s three-volume survey of the complete Rachmaninov songs, this release presents a good chronological picture of the composer’s vocal art. Indeed, many of his best songs are featured, and the full expressive range of an aspect of Rachmaninov’s work central to him until 1917 – he wrote no new songs after leaving Russia – is clearly revealed.
Rodgers may not equal the incomparable Elisabeth Söderström in this repertory, but she is nevertheless one of the finest non-Russian interpreters of Russian song today. She shows special identification with the texts, and puts her smooth, creamy soprano at the service of both words and music; when the emotions call for it, she is quite capable of hardening her tone too.
The British soprano is at her very finest in the nostalgic exoticism of ‘Sing not, O lovely one’, but lacks nothing when it comes to the delicacy of ‘Lilacs’ or the seamless line of ‘How peaceful’. She sings a sincere ‘Prayer’ with depth of feeling, and perhaps only in the famous ‘Vocalise’ could show more subtlety. This being Rachmaninov, the piano parts are of integral importance, and Howard Shelley supplies poetry and virtuosity in equal measure. John Allison