Rachmaninov and Glinka: Lieder • Songs • Chants

At that time the voice of Galina Vishnevskaya was known in
the West, notably in the famous recording of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Yet this release shows
Vishnevskaya in her native mileu, with works that are quintessentially Russian, albeit separated by
seventy years, from the earliest songs by Glink to the latest ones by Rachmaninov.

At the mention of Russian art song, aural images of several pieces by Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky
emerge, but the repertoire is much richer than that, with a tradition that antedates both composers and
extends beyond them. The famous “Vocalise” of Rachmaninov (op. 34, no. 14) is known in various
settings, and Vishnevskaya’s performance on this recording is a solid one that shows her burnished
timbre and elegant lyricism. This work brings to mind the modal inflections that are stylistically present in
the art songs of a number of Russian composers, albeit to varying degrees of emphasis. With the five
selections by Rachmaninov chosen for this recording, such modality supports the long melodic lines that
reinforce the texts. While Pushkin may be the most familiar of the poets for these selections, the other
verses show Rachmaninov’s sensitivity to texts that he found meaningful. “Ne poi, krassavica” op. 4,
no. 4 (translated here as “Oh, never sing to me again”) is a fine example of the kind of art song that
Rachmaninov pursued and which Vishnevskaya delivers well.

Yet the music of the earlier generation of Russian composers is not without interest, and the art songs of
Glinka call attention to the fine vocal music he composed. While Western audiences may know him for
the overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, the vocal writing in that opera and other works shows his
sensitivity to the declamation of Russian texts and an expressive line that transcends the literal texts. The
“Barkarola” (with an anonymous text) translates the Western form to a Russian and vocal idiom. In
another, “K nej,” (“To her”) Glinka sets the poetry of Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz, whose works
influenced others, including Gustav Mahler. While some of Glinka’s songs are relatively short, some of
the more sustained pieces, like “Somnenie” (translated here as “Doubt”) convey the sense of a dramatic
moment that a signer like Vishnevskaya can project well in live performances and also in recordings like
this. The eight selections of Glinka’s songs are well chosen, and the performances are convincing. With
a singer like Vishnevskaya accompanied by such a fine pianist as Mstislav Rostropovich, this recital of
Russian song (total duration, about forty-five minutes), not only captures the national style, but also the
intrinsically musical qualities of the music these performers chose to preserve in this recording.

Not previously released on CD, this recording was reissued to commemorate Vishnevskaya’s eightieth
birthday. The CD is a fine transfer of the recording, with fine sonics and the kind of ambiance that is
customary with Deutsche Grammophon. Those unfamiliar with Vishnevskaya’s voice should enjoy this
recital which shows the soprano at her prime, and individual who are familiar with the singer in operas
and other large-scale works will enjoy her more intimate performances in this song recital.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Rachmaninov and Glinka: Lieder • Songs • Chants
product_title=Rachmaninov and Glinka: Lieder • Songs • Chants
product_by=Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano, Mtislav Rostropovich, piano.
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 477 619-5 [CD]