Thursday 19 August 2021

Technicolour dreams: Anita Rachvelishvili's Élégie on Sony Classical

Élégie - Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Otar Taktakishvili, Tosti, Duparc, Falla; Anita Rachvelishvili, Vincenzo Scalera; Sony Records

- Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Otar Taktakishvili, Tosti, Duparc, Falla; Anita Rachvelishvili, Vincenzo Scalera; Sony Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 August 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The Georgian mezzo-soprano brings rich tones and a full-blooded approach to a programme of Russian, Georgian, Italian, French and Spanish song, yet one not without subtlety too.

The Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili is known for her dramatic roles in Italian opera (her appearances at Covent Garden have included Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore, Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana as well as the title role in Bizet's Carmen), but there is another side to her as well which enjoys the possibilities offered by the more intimate song repertoire.

For Élégie on Sony Classical, Anita Rachvelishvili is joined by pianist Vincenzo Scalera for a programme of Russian, Georgian, Italian, French and Spanish song with works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Otar Taktakishvili, Tosti, Duparc and Falla.

We begin with three Tchaikovsky songs, None but the lonely heart, Night and Reconciliation and from the outset it is clear that Rachvelishvili's approach is full blooded and she has no qualms about using the full range of colours in her voice. This approach takes None but the lonely heart well away from the drawing room and gives us moments of high drama yet quiet melancholy too. Night is dark and serious whilst there is a sober melancholy to Reconciliation and throughout Scalera's piano matches Rachvelishvili's colours. This isn't operatic, she does not try to turn these piece into mini operatic dramas but possessed of a rich, dramatic vocal instrument, Rachvelishvili's use of it is wonderfully unabashed and full-blooded.

This approach continues with the Rachmaninov songs, but interestingly faced with the composer's more richly romantic textures the performers here are a little more restrained. You are beautiful as a flower moves between lyricism and high drama, and you feel that Rachmaninov's songs suit her voice. I fell in love is rather seductive, she as a lovely way with the song's memorable melody, whilst How fair this spot is relatively intimate but even when reining things in, Rachvelishvili's voice has an amazing range of colour. Do not sing to me, my beauty is not only one Rachmaninov's best-known songs but it makes reference to the songs of Rachvelishvili's native Georgia. Quite restrained at first, the performance builds to a rich melancholy, and again the melody at the end is beautifully presented. The final Rachmaninov song, Oh, do not mourn me! returns to soulful melancholy, but I love the way at the climaxes she doesn't hold back. This is Rachmaninov performed with love and drama.

Next comes a song from a Georgian composer. Otar Taktakishvili studied both in his native Georgia and with Dmitri Shostakovich, he wrote a wide repertoire of works most of which are still unknown in the West. Here, Rachvelishvili sings Taktakishvili's setting of words by Georgian poet Galaktion Tabidze (1892-1959), a quietly concentrated piece where the voice slowly builds over an insistent piano. This is an intriguing compositional voice and I wished that Rachvelishvili had included more.

From Georgia we move to Italy with three of Tosti's Italian songs, Non t'amo piu, Ideale and Tristezza. Rachvelishvili sings in highly creditable Italian and is expressive and communicative in the language. She does not always have the fine level of control needed for the line in these songs, but she brings a rich vibrancy to the sound and gives performances which are rather compelling. For all the vibrancy of tone, Ideale is beautifully controlled and Tristezza is quite intimate, yet always the words are communicative.

The matter of words comes up when we move from Italy to France, as Rachvelishvili follows the Tosti with a group of Duparc songs, Élégie, Chanson triste and La vie antérieure. Undoubtedly her French is fluent, but her voice lacks the idiomatic placement for singing French song and she does not seem as communicative; in the Duparc the words do not seem to come over as well. Chanson triste and La vie antérieure are darker, richer and more robust than many performances and provides an interesting view of Duparc the song composer. You feel that these songs are still a work in progress and that if Rachvelishvili can get them bedded in and bring out the text more then it will be well worth hearing her interestingly different approach.

Finally we move to Spain, but not the Spain of the French imagination of Bizet's Carmen but the real folk melodies of Spain as filtered through Manuel de Falla's imagination in Siete canciones populares Espanolas. In the article in the album booklet,  Rachvelishvili points out the she finds links between some of the Spanish folk idiom and Georgian folk melodies. Undoubtedly she feels at home in these songs, and from the outset her approach is a combination of firm line and vivid colours, yet the quieter songs such as 'Asturiana' have a fine sense of control. A couple of them, feel perhaps a little stately and you sense that in live performance she might let rip, and I did wonder how much performance time she and Scalera had on this repertoire. Yet the final song, 'Polo' has nothing careful about it at all, vivid end to a striking recital.

Opera singers often form into three groups, those who never go into the recital hall except to perform operatic arias, those who bring the opera house into their song repertoire and those who take the Liederhalle into the opera house. Rachvelishvili seems admirably determined to explore the song repertoire in her own way, not diminishing the resources of her magnificent voice and bringing out the drama of the works. Yet there is subtlety too, and you sense quite how vivid she would be in live performance of this music. 

Anita Rachvelishvili Album Elegie 2021

A word about the album cover, the image of Rachvelishvili on the cover is as vivid and dramatic as her approach to the songs, it is also highly personal but I am not quite convinced that it conveys the subtlety of the song recital genre and I felt rather disappointed that pianist Vincenzo Scalera's name was nowhere on the album cover.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) - None but the lonely heart Op.6 No. 1
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Night Op.73 No. 2
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Reconciliation Op.25 No. 1
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) - Child, you are beautiful as a flower Op.8 No.2
Sergei Rachmaninov - I fell in love Op.8 No.4
Sergei Rachmaninov - How fair this spot Op.21 No.7
Sergei Rachmaninov - Do not sing to me, my beauty Op.4 No. 4
Sergei Rachmaninov - Oh, do not mourn me! Op.14 No. 8
Otar Taktakishvili (1924-1989) - Mzeo Tibatvis
Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916) - Non t'amo piu
Francesco Paolo Tosti - Ideale
Francesco Paolo Tosti - Tristezza
Henri Duparc (1848-1933) - Élégie
Henri Duparc - Chanson triste
Henri Duparc - La vie antérieure
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) - Siete Canciones populares Espanolas
Anita Rachvelishvili (mezzo-soprano)
Viincenzo Scalera (piano)
Recorded at Lone Records, Tblisi, Georgia, 26-30 January 2020
SONY CLASSICAL 19439737022 1CD

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