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<<  -- 2 --  Howard Smith    HEIGHTENED INTIMACY


Harmonia mundi's collection of lyrical miniatures post-date those of the dacha, izba and yurt; they're the art songs beloved throughout Imperial Russia and in this instance, (for home audiences), we hear them conveyed with an artistic polish and civility that earlier songs may not always have been accorded.

Conductor and musicologist, Olga Shapovalova explains 'there was no 19th century Russian composer who did not write romances. They were adored, and sung by practically everyone. By the dawn of that century, no single composer was able to ignore the great charm of Russian melodies.' Amazingly the Slavic musical 19th century produced an efflorescence of creative minds in 'batches of five', rather than one by one.

'Quite possibly', Shapovalova muses, 'romantic music that speaks on the same wavelengths as the heart strikes a particularly responsive chord in the Russian soul.'

Russian music of the 19th century began with romantic and patriotic composing by Alexei Verstovsky. Other touching romances were by Alyabiev, Varlamov and Gumilev but in the early years of the century Verstovsky reigned supreme in musical Russia. His music was often heard on the theatre stage -- his opera Askold's Grave, a resounding, comprehensive success -- was performed in dozens of theatres across the land. For several decades this opera alone brought in enormous revenues.

A Alyabiev, M Glinka and A Dargomyzhsky are frequently considered to be the founders of Russian musical classics though Alyabiev, exiled to Siberia, has become known to public only recently. (His best-known romances are Nightingale -- lyrics by A A Delvig and Beggar-woman -- lyrics by P Beranzhe.)

Another legend, famed for Russian romances, is linked with the name of Verstovsky -- his name; Alexander Varlamov. On the Urb/Mätlik disc we hear his O never speak of it, my love , a plea for clandestine, whispered assignations with lyrics by V Gortchakov. Varlamov was, indeed, dearly loved. While Verstovsky's romances were sung in soirees and salons, Varlamov's were sung by simply everyone: from Royalty to commoner. The reasons for his popularity lay in the songs' incredible simplicity, catchy, highly memorable melodies and lyrics. A distinctive Russian musical 'sound' set all this burgeoning music apart.

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Copyright © 16 August 2006 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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