Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Balakirev & Cui

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COMPOSERS: Balakirev & Cui,Borodin,Mussorgsky,Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Songs of Desire
WORKS: Songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Balakirev & Cui
PERFORMER: Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano)Larissa Gergieva (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 442 780-2 DDD
Tchaikovsky’s romansi may be well known in the West, but those of his peers, especially the so-called Mighty Handful (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) have remained neglected; an oversight partially redressed by the issue of this splendid collection of 25 of the 500-odd songs written by the Five.

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Olga Borodina, perhaps the most dazzling of the outstanding singers to have emerged from the Mariinsky, has a mezzo of glorious richness, infinite expressiveness and profound beauty. And it’s a voice that’s still developing, for compared with her excellent Tchaikovsky recital released last year, she now sounds less innately Russian: her vowels are more open, her upper register more robust, her style more colourful.

She could not ask for a better collaborator than Larissa Gergieva, a pianist of impeccable artistry and sensitivity, whose ability to conjure atmosphere – from Rimsky’s haunting ‘Nightingale and the Rose’ to the exotic orientalism of Balakirev’s ‘SelimSong’ or the rapturous tragedy of Cui’s Pushkin settings – is remarkable.

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Though performances and sound cannot be faulted, Philips should be ashamed of the booklet – at full price, a CD demands more than the sloppy translations provided. Without the text (and even a transliterated one is better than nothing), how can the listener ever fully appreciate the nuances of language, phrasing and rhyming scheme these evocative lyrics involve? Claire Wrathall