Friday 5 December 2014

Aida Garifullina at Rosenblatt Recitals

Aida Garifullina and Iain Burnside at Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall (c) Jonathan Rose
Aida Garifullina and Iain Burnside the Wigmore Hall
(c) Jonathan Rose
Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Delibes, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Gounod, Leoncavallo, Puccini; Aida Garifullina, Iain Burnside; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 3 2014
Star rating: 3.5

A young Russian lyric soprano in an ecletic programme, with mixed resuls

Aida Garifullina is a young (born 1987) Russian lyric soprano who has been making something of a name for herself having won Placido Domingo's Operalia competition. So her recital for Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 3 December 2014 was hotly anticipated. Accompanied by Iain Burnside, Garifullina performed an eclectic programme including opera arias by Rimsky Korsakov, Bellini, Gounod and Puccini, as well as songs by Rimsky Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Dvorak, Delibes, and Leoncavallo.

The opera arias ranged from Rimsky-Korsakov's Snow Maiden and Queen of Shemakhan from The Golden Cockerel, to Gounod's Juliette, Puccini's Musetta and Bellini's Norma. Few singers could cope with such a wide range of characters and styles, and whilst Garifullina showed herself vastly capable and appealing in the Russian roles, her forays into the Italian and French repertoire were not always stylistically appropriate and her account of Norma's Casta diva from Bellini's Norma was surely a mistake.

She opened in fine style with Oh, to gather berries with my friends from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden. It has always seemed a shame that we do not get to hear this lovely opera in London very often and it was a pleasure to here this aria sung with such a feeling of charm and style. Garifullina has vibrant, bright tone quality to her voice, with brilliance to the sound. She had a clear facility in the passagework, and a lovely vibrant top to the voice. Another work by Rimsky-Korsakov followed, a song this time Captivated by the rose, the nightingale from his Four Romances Op 2. This was a lyric piece, full of perfumed exoticism, with a touch of melancholy and a lovely high melisma at the end. Another romance followed, this time by Tchaikovsky, his O child, beneath your window from Six Romances Op.63.  Here a perky serenade in the piano was complemented by an appealing swing to Garifullina's vocals.

Dvorak's Songs my mother taught me from his Seven Gypsy Songs is well known. Garifullina, singing in competent Czech, clearly relished the gorgeousness of the song's melody, though she seemed content to dig no deeper. She brought a sensual charm to the vocal line of Les filles de Cadix by Leo Delibes, as she combined full blooded tone with nice fluidity, though her French did not seem to be ideal.

The first half finished with something of change in style, Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma. Here Garifullina seemed to be in need of guidance about style as her performance of the Bellini came over as something more like Rossini at his more light-hearted. She sang the cavatina with great lyric beauty, but her performance entirely lacked a feeling of bite in the notes and was just too placid. Casta diva is about far more than a nice sense of line, and clearly Garifullina had not taken on board the sort of drama that Callas brought to this piece. The recit was omitted, but we got the cabaletta which was equally mistaken. Here she sang as if it was a brilliant Rossinian rondo, it entirely lacked the fireworks and vigour necessary. It did not help Garifullina's performance that in Casta Diva her tendency, perhaps from nerves, to sing sharp was rather accentuated at times.

There was undoubtedly great beauty in Garifullina's performance, but it was stylistically inapposite and you felt that if she is to sing this repertoire she ought to get coaching from a dramatic bel canto specialist. Casta diva is a temptingly iconic aria, but one that is perhaps tricky to bring off without the added benefit of age and experience, and Garifullina might have been better served by singing something a little lighter.

After the interval, thankfully, we returned to Russian romances with a pair of songs by Rachmaninov, Lilacs and How peaceful it is here, both from his Twelve Romances Op.21. Both combined a simple elegance of line with a feeling of passion and in neither did she try too hard and the results were very effective.

Juliette's waltz song  Je veux vivre from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette was in some ways surprising as Garifullina combined her richly vibrant voice with a facility for Gounod's colouratura, and a heavy admixture of charm. This was not a slimline French-style performance of the aria, but it worked on its own terms though occasionally I could have wished that she did slim her voice a little.

We returned to Rimsky-Korsakov for more coloratura, this time the Hymn to the Sun from his last opera The Golden Cockerel. More eastern inspired exoticism, here receiving an almost pitch-perfect performance from Garifullina as she combined technique with seductive charm.

I am not sure why Garifullina chose to include Ruggero Leoncavallo's song Mattinata in the programme. It was the only item which she sang from music, and though the performance worked well enough she did not quite convince that the piece works with the soprano voice and I did miss a tenor singing the vocal line. The last number was Musetta's act two waltz song from Puccini's La Boheme, sung with the right combination of manner and notes. Again, I wished that she could have slimmed her tone down a little at times, as the whole aria seemed a little full on and the voice lacked something of a smile. But these are things that work with a good director would cure.

Aida Garifullina is a young performer with a lovely voice and great talent; her recital was distinctly mixed, however. I would have been happy to hear far more of her in the Russian repertoire, and rather wished we could have had a whole recital of this. But in the French and Italian items she seemed too often to be in need of the help of a good coach.

Throughout she was finely partnered by Iain Burnside who brought his familiar combination of technique and stylistic appositeness to all the varied repertoire.

Rosenblatt Recitals continue at the Wigmore Hall on 10 February 2015 with a recital by the Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu.
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