Olga Borodina & Dmitri Yefimov at Barbican Hall – A Recital of Russian Songs

Songs by Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich & Sviridov

Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano) & Dmitri Yefimov (piano)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 7 October, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Usually one hears in a recital of Russian songs a panoply of thwarted love, despair and death: unfiltered gloom. Humorous and quicker songs do exist, some of which Olga Borodina included in her imaginative programme. Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, often the main contributors to such a recital, were not represented. One song which does seem almost obligatory if anything by César Cui is performed is that about The Fountain Statue at Tsarskoye Selo. It was the second of his three pieces here.

Borodina was in good voice, using a range of volume to fine effect, as in Cui’s Desire. Attractively well controlled, with much use of half voice, was Mussorgsky’s Night, which was followed by a delightful, quietly delivered The Sea Princess of Borodin. The luring of the young traveller to slip under the waters was so appealing in Borodina’s entrancing singing. Tempo quickened and rhythm became sprightlier in the three Balakirev pieces, beginning with the lilting The Bright Moon. Borodina caught well the rhythm of Spanish Song, employing the dark colours of her voice. Dmitri Yefimov played as well here as he had the moodier songs earlier.

In the second part, we stayed in Iberia for Shostakovich’s Spanish Songs. If you have heard only his Alexander Blok settings, you will be surprised how tuneful this Opus 100 collection is. Borodina and Yefimov worked well together in the catchy numbers, with accompaniments varying between the spare chords of ‘Farewell, Granada’ and the rippling figures of ‘Ronda’. Borodina’s palette of colours and her pianist’s contribution made the six songs a highly pleasurable experience. Finally came four compositions by Sviridov, an underrated composer who wrote many attractive pieces. A Winter’s Road brought a lively response from the performers, then Borodina introduced a bigger sound and fuller tone for Drawing near to Izhory. Finally, Russia Cast Adrift, its dissonances causing Yefimov no difficulty. As in all the songs, Borodina was responsive to music and words.

Apart from one or two touches of shrillness on loud high notes in the opening Rimsky-Korsakov group, after which the voice settled, Borodina’s intelligent singing was impressive, with some fitting nuances and much sweetness in quiet moments. The audience applauded after every song, sometimes before the piano’s last chord had died away.

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