Monday 6 February 2017

Debut recital disc from Russian soprano Aida Garifullina

Aida Garifullina
Gounod, Delibes, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, traditional, Soloviev-Sedoy; Aida Garifullina, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Cornelius Meister; DECCA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 31 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Stunning technique allied to generic characterisation in the debut recital disc from the Russian lyric coloratura soprano

We heard the Russian soprano Aida Garifullina at Rosenblatt Recitals in 2014 (see my review) and her debut disc on Decca is a similar mix of French and Italian standards, with some Russian rarities and songs. Accompanied by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, conductor Cornelius Meister, Garifullina sings arias from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, Delibes' Lakme, Rimsky-Korsakov's Song of IndiaThe Snow Maiden and The Golden Cockerel, and Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, plus songs by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, and traditional songs.

Garifullina has a fine lyric coloratura voice with a surprising strength and vibrancy to it, so that the more coloratura items have a very particular quality to them which makes her performances very appealing. She also has a lovely secure technique and a nice evenness of tone from top to bottom. Simply listening to the opening item of the disc, Juliette's Je veux vivre from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette gives you the idea, with shapely phrases, technical security and great charm. But the timbre is a long way from a traditional French lyric coloratura, and there is little sense of Juliette the young naif.

Moving on to The Bell Song from Delibes' Lakme we can again appreciate the beauty of sound allied to superb technical delivery, yet the voice sounds rather more robust than at teenager with little in the way of vulnerability or fragility. More importantly, the emotional demeanour is similar to the first song, we lack a sense of character.

You feel that there is more connection between singer and material in the first two Rimsky Korsakov items, arias from The Song of India and The Snow Maiden. Here, in her own native language there is a greater sense of colour to the words, though even here I wondered if you could guess the emotional content of the arias by listening cold. The big advantage of hearing Garifullina in this music is that she is able to combine a fine technique, with quite a full voice in just the way the roles require.

She sings Tchaikovsky's Serenada from Six Romances and Rachmaninov's Lilacs from Twelve Romances with great style and engaging charm, though you feel it is the musical line which is most important to her rather than inflecting the words.

The traditional song Alluki is marred by a being given in a big, film-score type arrangement which does the song no favours, but provides Garifullina with a fine vehicle.

There is a lovely lyric melancholy to Maria's lullaby from Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, and the two items from Rimsky Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel show the Queen of Shemmakha at her most langorously seductive.

We return to rather generic romance for How beautiful it is here from Rachmaninov's Twelve Romances, and there is a yearning melancholy to Rimsky Korsakov's The Rose and the Nightingale (though you should seek out Cathy Berberian's performance if you want to hear it sung with real character). Frankly, the Rachmaninov's Vocalise suits Garifullina admirably, but here the piece is taken at a pace which is almost funereal.

Finally we get a traditional Cossack lullaby in a rather leisurely tempo, and the the familiar Midnight in Moscow by Soloviev-Sedoy, but given the showbiz treatment.

If you like beautiful singing, then this is the disc for you. In all the items on the disc, Garifullina shows herself to be a stylish, elegant performer with a supreme technique. But her main concern is technique, and sense of line. When we get characterisation it is fairly generic and there is little sense of her colouring and inflecting words, and digging deep into character. Perhaps I am being a little hard, but I feel that Garifullina has such a lovely combination of technique and charm, that it is  shame that these arias and songs do not count for much, much more.

Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893) - Ah, je veux vivre dans ce rève (Roméo et Juliette)
Léo Delibes (1836 - 1891) - Où va la jeune Indoue (Bell song) (Lakmé)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 - 1908), Arr. Bateman - Song of India (Sadko)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - S podruzhami po yagoda khodit (The Snow Maiden)
Peter Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893), arr. Hazell - Serenada (Shest' romansov (Six Romances))
Op.63 Sergey Vasil'yevich Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Siren (12 Songs, Op.21)
Anonymous - Alluki
Peter Tchaikovsky - Spi, mladyenits moy prekrasniy (Maria's Lullaby) (Mazeppa)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - Hymn to the Sun; Tsaritsa's Dance of Seduction (The Golden Cockerel)
Sergey Rachmaninov, Arr. Rot - Zdes' khorosho (12 Songs, Op.21)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Arr. Tarkmann - Oriental Romance(Four Songs, Op.2)
Sergey Rachmaninov - Vocalise, Op.34, No.14
Anonymous - Cossack Lullaby
Vasili Soloviev-Sedoy (1907 - 1979), Mikhail Matusovsky (1915 - 1990) - Midnight In Moscow
Aida Garifullina (soprano)
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien
Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra [final item]
Vitaly Gnutov (conductor) [final item]
Cornelius Meister (conductor)

Available from

Elsewhere on this blog:

  • Dark doings in the basement: Menotti's The Medium from Magnetic Opera - opera review
  • Music of a forgotten master: Daniel Grimwood in piano music by Adolf von Henselt - CD review
  • Muhly, Argento & Schumann: Alice Coote and Julius Drake at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • New ideas round the edges: I chat to Samir Savant, new Festival Director of the London Handel Festival - interview
  • Striking but contrasting 20th century works: Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO in Kancheli, Martinu and RVW - concert review
  • Getting beyond the music history: Rossi's Hebrew Psalms from Profeti della Quinta - CD review
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