There may be cheerful songs in Russian but I’m not sure I have ever heard one. Certainly there were none on offer at the Four Seasons Centre today when Ekaterina Gubanova and Rachel Andrist offered up a recital of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky works. There’s a reason why one of three Russian words I can recognize is “Schmert”. Depressing as the texts may have been these were truly wonderful performances. Gubanova has a dark, very Slavic colour though she can brighten it when she chooses and she’s utterly fearless singing with great passion and, yes, there was a high C in there.
The three Tchaikovsky pieces served as a fairly substantial amuse geule for the main event; Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. Rastvoril ya okno lies quite high for a mezzo but Gubanova sang it with great beauty and total control. Net, tol’ko tot, kto znal was impressive too but it was the final number of the set; Ya li v pole ne travushka byla that had the hairs on my neck on end. The emotion, the gorgeous and varied colours in the voice. It was all there. Lovely piano playing from Rachel too.
The Mussorgsky songs are essentially dialogues between Death and the people he has professional dealings with; the mother of a dying child, a young woman, a peasant dying in the snow and a Field Marshal and his army. They range from the almost contrapuntal Kolibel’naya through the rather sinister and rhythmically insistent Serenada to the moody and delicate Trepak and the fierce, fierce Polkovodets. Singer and pianist here combined beautifully in the varied moods and rhythms. There was delicacy and power too and real characterisation. There was never any doubt about whose voice the song was carrying. Very, very impressive.
For an encore we got a sad little a cappella number from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride. A bittersweet ending to a very fine recital.
Photo credits: Chris Hutcheson