Sunday 1 June 2014

Impressive debut - Ildar Abdrazakov in Russian arias

Russian Opera Arias - Ildar Abdrazakov - Delos
Russian Opera Arias: Ildar Abdrazakov, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Constantine Orbelian: Delos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

First survey of classic Russian bass territory by promising young Russian.

Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov won the Maria Callas International Television Competition in Parma at the age of 24. This led to him becoming known for the Italian and French repertoire, which suited the baritonal nature of his voice. As his voice has darkened with age (he is now 37), he has started to develop his Russian repertoire and recently sang the title role in Borodin's Prince Igor at the Metropolitan Opera. This new disc on Delos is his first major foray into significant Russian repertoire. Accompanied by Constantine Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Abrazakov sings arias from operas by Glinka, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Rubenstein, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.

He has a vibrantly vivid voice, with a lovely rich, grainy tone along with an admirable freedom at the top and superb diction. Whilst he clearly has not sung all these roles yet on stage, there is a clear sense of dramatic freedom in his performances and some characters, such as Vaarlam in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov leap off the disc.

He starts with Aleko's cavatina All the camp is asleep from Rachmaninov's Aleko. He sings with thrilling voice, but with sensibility too and brings a lovely sweep and shape to the melody with its echoes of Borodin and Tchaikovsky.

The next two items go back to the very beginnings of Russian opera, with Ruslan & Ludmila, the second of the two operas by the father of Russian opera, Mikhail Glinka. Farlaf's Rondo is a brilliant buffo rondo, which is a delightful tongue twister of an aria which Abdrazakov sings with perky charm. Next he sings another aria from this opera, this time Ruslan's Oh, field, field which is a long aria, almost a scena. After a long, meditative orchestral introduction the first section is all inward melancholy, with Abdrazakov singing with beautifully controlled legato. Then when Ruslan recovers and asks God for a sword to smite his enemies, we get a brisk up tempo section with distinctly Italianate hints. The melody is familiar as Glinka uses it in the overture to the opera. Abdrazakov sings it with stylish swagger.

He brings a nice dramatic feel to There's no sleep, no repose, Prince Igor's Act 2 aria from Borodin's Prince Igor, to which he gives a strong narrative sense. Listening to it, you realise Borodin's debt to Glinka. There are thrilling moments, but Abdrazakov does not belt, and creates character with some subtlety. After this Vaarlam positively explodes onto the scene, in a vividly comic account of his aria At Kazan, where long ago I fought from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Much of the comedy comes from the self-absorbed boastful swagger that Abdrazakov gives the character.

Anton Rubenstein's The Demon is far less known in the West. In fact Rubenstein studied in Berlin with Glinka's teacher, Siegfried Dehn. The aria In the ocean of the sky is sung by the title character, a melancholy wanderer. The piece has great lyric beauty, which Abdrazakov gives a nicely inward feel in a finely shaped performance.

Prince Gremin's aria from Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin is one of the best known pieces on the disc and Abdrazakov's performance does not disappoint. He gives the aria with moving dignity and a very fine sense of line; his tone in the final verse is beautifully soft grained. King Rene's aria from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta is in a similar vein, though less well known. Here Abdrazakov sings the passionate cantilena with great intensity.

Glinka's first opera was A Life for the Tsar, and the lead character Ivan Susanin's final aria, Oh Lord, have pity on me! is another lyrical cantilena, profoundly moving and expressive as well as being suffused with melancholy. By contrast, General Kutuzov's aria Majestic, flashing in the sunshine from Prokofiev's War and Peace hymns Moscow and Abdrazakov makes it uplifting and stirring.

There is a wonderful sweep to the music for the Viking Song from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko. Orbelian and the orchestra bring out the grandeur, and are complemented by a thrilling performance from Abdrazakov.

Finally, they perform the Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Abdrazakov makes a darkly brooding Boris, and the Kaunas State Choir is thrilling but somehow the scene does not quite come together. No matter, it is a great showcase for Abdrazakov's talents and a promise of Borises to come.

Abdazakov is well supported by Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra. This is a fine recital, full of wonderful promise as Abdrazakov takes his lovely dark toned voice through an interesting selection of showcase arias. It is certainly a promise of fine performances to come and all lovers of great voices and of the Russian repertoire will want to hear this brilliant new talent.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Ves tabor spit / All the camp is asleep (Aleko) [6.19]
Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857) - Farlaf's Rondo (Ruslan & Ludmila) [3.34]
Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857) - O pole, pole / O field, field (Ruslan & Ludmila) [11.47]
Alexander Borodin (1833 - 1887) - Ne sna ne otdykha / There's no sleep (Prince Igor) [7.38]
Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881) - Kak vo gorode bylo vo Kazani / At Kazan, where long ago I fought (Boris Godunov) [2.11]
Anton Rubenstein (1829 - 1894) - Na Vozdushnom Okeane / In the ocean of the sky (The Demon) [5.05]
Piotr Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) - Lyubvi vsem vozrasty pokorny / Love has nothing to do with age (Yevgeny Onegin) [5.37]
Piotr Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) - Gospod moi, yesli greshin ya / Oh Lord, have pity on me! (Iolanta) [4.31]
Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857) - Chuyut pravdu / They suspect the truth (A Life for the Tsar) [5.56]
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953) - Velichavaya v solnechnykh luchakh / Majestic, flashing in the sunshine (War and Peace) [4.31]
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 - 1908) - Viking Song (Sadko) [2.53]
Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881) - Coronation Scene (Boris Godunov) [8.18]
Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Kaunas State Choir
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra
Recorded Kaunas Philharmonic, Kaunas, Lithuania, 9-13 May 2013
DELOS DE3456 1 CD [66.49}
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