Rachmaninov: Songs

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Sergei Leiferkus (baritone), Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9374 DDD
Have no fear that a sequence of 32 songs by Rachmaninov implies a continuous wave of Slavonic melancholy. Perhaps nowhere in all the repertoire of concert song is there anything more extraordinary than ‘Fate’, grounded on repetitions of the opening motif of Beethoven’s Fifth. Or take the composer’s setting of his own letter of congratulation to Stanislavsky on a theatrical success (complete with a postscript, ‘My wife joins me in good wishes’). Broad is the inspiration which can place these beside ‘Ditya! kak svetok’, which (as the annotator fails to point out) is a translation of the familiar Schumann/Heine song-text, ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’.

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Leiferkus is well known for powerful projection of both musical line and verbal sense – assets splendidly used here. What keeps his performance just short of five-star rating is an occasional dullness of tone or even a wobble on lower notes (curiously enough), whereas the higher tones are thrilling in definition and impact. Shelley is the perfect piano partner, the recording is technically first-class, and full translations (plus transliterated Russian texts) are provided. Arthur Jacobs