Tchaikovsky: Songs

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Lina Mkrtchyan (contralto); Evgeny Talisman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-219
Lina Mkrtchyan’s is a voice to make you yearn, like Chekhov’s Three Sisters, for Moscow. It is the aural essence of Russian soulfulness, and this selection of some of Tchaikovsky’s loveliest and gloomiest songs – all torment and unhappy love – is the perfect vehicle for her quintessentially Slavic artistry. Trained in Moscow, this Armenian-Ukrainian contralto has a quaintly old-fashioned style, utterly sincere and strongly expressive but avoiding descent into melodrama through the power of her conviction.

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More striking even than her interpretative skills is the voice itself, which rises effortlessly from a resonant, velvety lower register through three octaves to a bright, pellucid top. Its distinctive timbre is uncompromisingly guttural, almost swallowed, and is sometimes marked by a peculiar kind of breathiness, but it has none of the curdled quality that sometimes afflicts contraltos.

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Compared, for instance, with Olga Borodina and Larissa Gergieva’s considered and exemplary 1994 account of many of the same songs (Philips), Mkrtchyan and her collaborator Evgeny Talisman’s committed and emotional performance may seem overheated. But if you have a taste for Russian fatalism and wallowing introspection, there is little to beat this, not least for the sheer glory of Mkrtchyan’s astonishing tone. Claire Wrathall