This disc doesn't quite live up to its ambitious title of World Poetry in Russian Music, but it does give excellent examples of some of the roles foreign poetry played in Russian art song of the Soviet period. The highlight is the initial work on the disc, by Dmitry Shostakovich, for whom approved foreign classics were part of his arsenal of coded resistance to the authorities. The Suite to Words by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op. 145, is better known in an orchestral version, but baritone Frieder Andres in his liner notes makes a persuasive case for the equal status of the voice-and-piano song. The more intimate version may even be preferable, because it brings out the personal and pungently bitter qualities of these songs. Michelangelo's poems (yes, his talents extended to the verbal arts as well) alternate between romantic themes and rather startling works in which the artist wrangles with his powerful employers, and no Russian audience would have missed the implications of the latter group. Musically, as with other late Shostakovich works, the dark, irregular style of Mussorgsky looms as a major influence. Dmitry Kabalevsky's Four Shakespeare Sonnets, Op. 52, come from a completely different world of conservative, well-made songs in Western styles, with a Tchaikovskian tinge. For Kabalevsky Western poetry offered a way of remaining within approved boundaries while still creating challenging music. Less familiar still are the four selections from the Heine Songs of Valery Gavrilin, composed in the 1960s. Gavrilin's settings differ sharply in mood from Schumann's Liederkreis and other Romantic settings that reflect the folkish simplicity of Heine's poems, and their ironic humor—he blows big, colorful, soapy bubbles that are then pricked, someone once said. Gavrilin's vocal lines reflect the surface gloom of Heine's poetry, but the piano parts lead a life of their own, both in song accompaniments and in interludes, one of which is performed here. The subtle relationships between voice line and accompaniment owe something to Hugo Wolf, but in a Soviet Russian context they suggest a liveliness beneath a stolid surface that has social as well as personal dimensions. Frieder Anders adjusts his rich voice marvelously to the various moods of these songs, moving from an undertone of suppressed fury in the Shostakovich to a calm demeanor in the Kabalevsky. This is a beautifully conceived recital that offers some terrific and little-known repertory to any singer—or any lover of Russian music.
© James Manheim, All Music Guide
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