Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov: By the Sea

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky,Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Meridian
WORKS: By the Sea
PERFORMER: Vassily Savenko (bass-baritone), Michael Dussek (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84399
A decade ago the songs of Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Balakirev and Cui, even of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, were little known outside Russia, but the past few years have seen an abundance of recordings. With so much competition, the quality of performance and programme is critical, but happily both these discs come up trumps.

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The Ukrainian-born, British-based bass-baritone Vassily Savenko is a suave and accomplished singer. His voice is muscular and robust, if not especially distinguished, and his phrasing beautifully shaped. His approach is more cerebral than passionate, but on familiar pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s swaggering ‘Don Juan’s Serenade’ or Mussorgsky’s guffawing ‘Song of the Flea’, this restraint comes as a revelation.

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Of the two discs, Hyperion’s ‘Russian Images’ has the less familiar and more intriguing programme, ranging chronologically from Glinka to Lyatoshinsky (who died in 1968). Though it contains a handful of works by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, it is essentially a survey of the repertoire’s obscurer reaches, and for my money contains some of its most beautiful and evocative songs. The Meridian disc, entitled ‘Russian Vocal Masterpieces’, meanwhile, restricts itself to Mussorgsky (the great if now ubiquitous Songs and Dances of Death) and Rimsky, the inclusion of whose rarely heard but rhapsodic cycle By the Sea is its chief appeal. Claire Wrathall