Rachmaninov: Letter to KS Stanislavsky; Vocalise

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Letter to KS Stanislavsky; Vocalise
PERFORMER: Joan Rodgers (soprano), Maria Popescu (mezzo-soprano), Alexandre Naoumenko (tenor), Sergei Leiferkus ; (bass), Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9477
The last in Chandos’s chronological survey of Rachmaninov’s song oeuvre, this recital begins in 1908 with the novel ‘Letter to KS Stanislavsky’ – a prose setting complete with salutation, dateline and postscript – and ends in 1917, when Rachmaninov left Russia, after which he wrote no more songs. It embraces some of his most original settings: the shattering, declamatory two-line quotation from the Gospel of St John; the fevered ‘Dissonance’; the schmaltzy ‘Vocalise’. With their extraordinary textures –sometimes impressionistic, sometimes crashing – and symbolic texts, these are a far cry from the lushly Romantic romansi of Vols 1 and 2.

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Sergei Leiferkus, a singer pre-eminent in this repertory (some of his songs here have been issued before), is on top form, but fears that his mighty voice and thrilling characterisation might overpower his colleagues are largely unfounded. The high tenor Alexandre Naoumenko has a shimmering, if sometimes slightly strangulated top to his voice and he can sculpt a line with great delicacy. Joan Rodgers and Maria Popescu, though disadvantaged by not being Russians, demonstrate profound understanding of the texts, instilling the words with moving intensity. Rachmaninov’s prowess as pianist is evident in the complex, dramatic piano parts, and once again Howard Shelley proves an outstanding interpreter. Claire Wrathall