Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

Anna Netrebko and her husband, Yusif Eyvazov, were amongst the enthusiastic
audience for songs by Glinka and Tchaikovsky, with a series of encores that
unleashed operatic tendencies never much veiled, Offenbach’s ‘Ah! quel
diner je viens de faire’ (La pÈrichole) and Carmen’s
Habanera both revealing excellent French (also heard recently in

Paris’s new Troyens

), a soulful rendition of one of Dvo?·k’s Gypsy Songs in between.

That this was to be a recital in the grand manner was apparent from the
very first of the twelve songs that make up Glinka’s collection, A Farewell to St Petersburg, ‘Romance from David Riccioi’
. Semenchuk’s performance smiled without fashionable lightness, not so far
from Verdi – though I find this unpretentious salon music considerably more
to my taste. There was stage delivery too, the assumption if not of
character than of persona. Skigin conveyed well the dance rhythms of songs
such as ‘Bolero’ and ‘Barcarole’, leaving the way clear for Semenchuk’s
star quality to engage beyond that. In the former, there were some
splendidly darkened colours in her lower range, indicative of what might be
achieved on a larger stage, without merely being of it here. A simple yet
touching ‘Cavatina’ likewise hinted at that other musical world, whilst the
contrasting stanzas of ‘Lullaby’ made almost for a scena in
themselves; likewise, in different yet related fashion, the high drama of
the ‘Fantasia’. The motoric humour of the preceding ‘Travelling song’
(‘Poputnaya pesnya’) even went so far as to receive an encore. Three songs
in succession, ‘A knight’s song’, ‘The lark’, and ‘To Molly’, seemed almost
to summarise the collection as a whole: respectively, aptly martial, and on
a grand scale; delicate, yet spotlit; and beautifully shaped, with touching
sincerity. The final ‘Song of farewell’ rounded things off with a resolve
as un-Mahlerian as could be imagined: ‘Der Abschied’ this is not – and was
not. This may not be ‘great’ music, but Semenchuk more than held our
attention, drawing out of it more than one might ever have expected,
without turning it into something that it was not.

‘A tear trembles’, the fourth song from Tchaikovsky’s op.6 collection,
registered a different compositional voice entirely – which yet had roots
in what had gone before. Semenchuk’s change of gown during the interval
suggested something graver, less of the salon – and that is what we heard,
her velvet tone and legato just the ticket. A richly wistful ‘To forget so
soon’ offered both continuation and individuality, at times once again
hinting at the operatic world of Eugene Onegin. The succeeding
song, ‘The fires in the rooms were already out’, offered a fine example of
building from hushed tones to climax, whilst the well-known ‘None but the
lonely heart’, again from Tchaikovsky’s op.6, was relished as if an old
favourite brought out by popular demand from the piano stool. (From the
stool, though, certainly not off the peg.) ‘It was in early spring’ sounded
duly vernal, ‘The fearful moment’ another fine example of opening in the
salon and broadening out. Each of these songs brought something different
to an enjoyable and revealing reictal, ‘Whether the day reigns’, op.47
no.6, an exultant, even grandiloquent finale.

Mark Berry

Glinka: A Farewell to St Petersburg; Tchaikovsky:A tear trembles; To forget so soon;The fires in the rooms were already out;None but the lonely heart; It was in early spring;The fearful moment; Frenzied nights; Death; We sat together; Whether the day reigns.

Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 1 April

product_title= Ekaterina Semenchuk and Semyon Skigin at Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: Ekaterina Semenchuk

Photo credit: Alexey Kostromin