Wednesday 27 April 2022

Unustusse vajunud päev - A forgotten day

Unustusse vajunud päev - A forgotten day: Russian author's song (bard song); Aleksandr Ivashkevich, Kristo Käo; ERP Music

Unustusse vajunud päev - A forgotten day: 
Russian author's song (bard song); Aleksandr Ivashkevich, Kristo Käo; ERP Music 
Reviewed 27 April 2022, (★★★★)

A completely charming disc where two Estonian performers provide an entrancing window into a Soviet Russian art-form that took place entirely outside the Soviet establishment

This delightful disc introduced my to a performance style of which I was hitherto entirely unaware, the Russian bard song or author song, a singer-songwriter style influenced by the American folk-music revival, which took place outside of the Soviet establishment. On this disc from ERP music, Unustusse vajunud päev - A forgotten day, Georgian-born Estonian actor Aleksandr Ivashkevich and guitarist Kristo Käo perform a programme of bard song/author song stretching from the 1960s through to the present day.

The disc does require some work, everything on the disc is printed in Russian and Estonian, whilst the ERP website has only a tracklisting and texts in English, but thanks to Google translate we can find out a little more. Author's song (бардовская песня) became one of the most important examples of self-expression in the Soviet Union. In the midst of a totalitarian regime it became a breath of fresh air.

This is very much poetry accompanied by guitar and on the disc, Ivashkevich moves easily between singing and speech. He has an attractive, expressive voice and is able to focus on the text whilst giving us these lovely melodies. Many of the songs are delightful or seductive, and make gentle listening and you have to think strongly to put them back into context and realise quite how distinctive they were. 

During the genre's initial period of popularity, such songs were performed in closed circles and passed orally and via tape recordings, with public performances rare. As well as the more romantic songs, there were satirical ones and those on war themes. With popularity came persecution, with some bards being forced to emigrate but the form survived. We are essentially listening to the fruits of singing poets, the melody is not important in its own right but as a vehicle for the poetry.

Alexander Ivashkevich and Kristo Kao (Photo Nikolai Alhazov/ERP)
Alexander Ivashkevich and Kristo Käo (Photo Nikolai Alhazov/ERP)

In style, Ivashkevich and Käo's performances remind me not so much of the American folk revival as as certain time of a intimate French chanson from the same period and you wonder as the web of influences. The disc begins with a contemporary piece by Ardo Ran Varres (an Estonian actor and composer), from the 2019 Estonian film, The Real Life of Johannes Pääsuke. We then move back in time, and hear a selection of songs by a sequence of Russian poets, Robert Rozhdestvensky (1932-1994), Alexander Morozov & Nikolai Rubtsov (1936-1971), Yevgeny Bachurin (1934-2015), Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921), Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), Alexander Dolsky (born 1938), Yuliya Silayeva (born 1964) & Nikolai Gumilev. We then end with two songs from films. The first by Soviet Armenian composer Mikael Tariverdiev (1931-1996) and Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko (1933-2017) from the film The Irony of Fate (1975) and by Konstantin Shevelev and Alexander Lugarev from the film film Garbage Man (2001).

This is personal music, the poet writing about their concerns and the results are more soulful than entertaining, a personal communication with guitar. And here, Ivashkevich manages to capture that essence, accompanied sensitively and imaginatively by Käo, who arranged most of the songs. And Ivashkevich also plays the guitar on a one number.

This disc might seem somewhat left-field, but I rather fell in love with it and it is certainly well worth seeing out

Unustusse vajunud päev - A forgotten day - Russian author's song (bard song) by Ardo Ran Varres, Ardo Ran Varres, Alexander Morozov & Nikolai Rubtsov, Yevgeny Bachurin, Nikolai Gumilev, Ivan Bunin, Alexander Dolsky, Yuliya Silayeva, Mikael Tariverdiev  & Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Konstantin Shevelev & Alexander Lugarev
Aleksandr Ivashkevich (voice & guitar)
Kristo Käo (guitar)
ERP Music ERP12521 1CD 

Further information from the ERP website.

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