Friday 8 January 2021

The missing link: romances by Alexander Dargomyzhshky, a friend of Glinka and an influence on a later generation of Russian composers

Alexander Dargomyzhshky Romances; Anastasia Prokofieva, Sergey Rybin; Stone Records

Alexander Dargomyzhshky Romances; Anastasia Prokofieva, Sergey Rybin; Stone Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 January 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A chance to explore songs by a composer who is an important link between Glinka and the Russian composers of the later 19th century

When we think of Russian song in recital, it tends to be songs by Mussorgsky (1839-1881), Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), and Rachmaninov (1873-1943) that performers reach for first, and even then, quite a small group of songs by each composer. But on disc, things are starting to get more interesting, in 2016 Katherine Broderick and Sergey Rybin recorded a disc of Mussorgsky songs which explored the links between the composer and French Impressionism [see my review], then in 2018, Anush Hovhannisyan, Yuriy Yurchuk, and Sergey Rybin recorded a disc of Romances by Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) [see my review], and now pianist Sergei Rybin is joined by soprano Anastasia Prokofieva on Stone Records for The Secret Garden, Romances by Alexander Dargomyzhshky, a selection of 26 of the composer's songs.

Alexander Dargomyzhshky (1813-1869) is one of the missing links between Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) and the composers of Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky's generation. Dargomyzhshky's father was the illegitimate son of a nobleman, and the young Alexander was musically talented early and his teachers would include one of Hummel's pupils. In 1833, Dargomyzhshky met Glinka who encouraged the young man and Glinka would be a mentor and friend for 22 years. It was Glinka's influence that encouraged Dargomyzhshky to consider composing as a profession, rather than simply something for the salon. Though like the composers born in the 1830s and 1840s, Dargomyzhshky also had a day job in the civil service.

Whilst he was heavily influenced by French Grand Opera, and spent six months during 1844 travelling to Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Vienna when it came to Russian music Dargomyzhshky was looking for a deeper truth. He was interested in the way words were set, would experiment with declamatory, recitative-like writing which would heavily influence later generations of Russian composers. Perhaps because he didn't write 'ear flattering melodies', his music never quite got the attention that it deserved. He wrote almost exclusively for the voice, leaving four complete operas, two incomplete operas and nearly 100 Romances. His songs trace his stylistic evolution from classical through Romantic towards Realism, first songs for the salon, then Russian folk songs, larger-scale ballades and realistic, satirical scenes.

The record booklet gives us plenty of information about the composer, his songs, the texts and their authors, but does not seem to include dates for the songs. This is a shame as it would be interesting to know where the individual songs fit into Dargomyzhshky's development. Sergey Rybin says in his booklet note that they have concentrated on the earlier aspects of his career. We certainly begin in the salon, setting French, and throughout the recital, there are songs that seem to be firmly aimed at the salon. But in others, whilst there is the use of closed forms, the word-setting has greater freedom to it which makes the songs intriguing. By the time we reach the title song Vertograd (The Secret Garden), there is a real freedom in Dargomyzhshky's approach, which continues in The fire of desire burns in my blood

The result is to intrigue and to make you wonder why the songs are not better known. Many of these songs are little gems, as Dargomyzhshky shows himself sympathetic to setting the text in an expressive way, despite the apparent tyranny of a closed dance-form in the piano. I would have liked to hear more of  Dargomyzhshky's other song styles, but Prokofieva and Rybin's selection of material stays close to Dargomyzhshky's writing for the salon.

The songs are performed here with great charm and sympathy by Prokofieva and Rybin. This is one of those discs that makes you wonder why we have not heard these songs before (though Malcolm Martineau gave us four songs in the 1840s volume of his Decades project, see my review). And what it also does is when my appetite to hear the songs from later in Dargomyzhshky's career when he moved away from the salon.

This review will also appear on Opera Today

The Secret Garden: Romances by Alexander Dargomyzhsky 

Alexander Dargomyzhsky (Portrait by Konstantin Makovsky, 1869)
Alexander Dargomyzhsky
(Portrait by Konstantin Makovsky, 1869)
Alexander Dargomyzhshky (1813-1869) - Au bal
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Upon the expanse of heavens
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Sierra Nevada is shrouded in mists…, Second version
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - I am in love, beautiful maiden
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - La sincère
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Sixteen years
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Thou and You
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - How often I listen…
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Jamais
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Night Zephyr, First version
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Vanne, o rosa fortunata
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Foolish one, I still love him!
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Secret garden
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - The fire of desire burns in my blood
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Ô, ma charmante
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - I won’t tell anyone
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - I am saddened
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Dieu qui sourit
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Don’t call her heavenly, Second version
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Spanish Romance
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - The youth and the maiden
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - You’ll soon forget me
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Don’t ask
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - Enchant me, enchant!
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - We parted proudly
Alexander Dargomyzhshky - I loved you
Anastasia Prokofieva (soprano)
Sergey Rybin (piano)
Recorded 16 June 2019, Henry Wood Hall
STONE RECORDS 5060192780987 1CD 

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