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Nikita Romanovich [listen track 16, 0:36-0:59] is one of several rendered as duets, and all the more characterful for it. In two of the settings, Birds and Animals, and I went to the garden, I actually found the treatments frustratingly short, as Balakirev has found such good accompanimental matches for the song lines that I wanted to hear more development. In fact, it seems a pity that Balakirev did not turn into a Russian equivalent of say, Vaughan Williams or de Falla, both able to build large-scale symphonic and theatrical structures on the basis of a folksong they instinctively knew how to handle. Well, he didn't, but we can enjoy his obvious empathy with his native material in these unforced miniatures.

Toccata Classics' production of this CD is to be commended. For variety, three singers render the folksongs: soprano Olga Kalugina gives lively and fresh-faced characterisation to her pieces, while mezzo Svetlana Nikolayeva at times tries to imbue perhaps a little too much gravitas into proceedings, tending to overproduce for the material. Tenor Pavel Kolgatin has a choral rather than operatic voice and brings a bucolic innocence which is entirely in place. Duo pianists Banowetz and Alton Chung Ming Chan have the flexibility and lightness of touch needed for folk settings. The recorded sound has a suitable bloom to it, although one minor quibble is that on some tracks the studio ambience seems to cut off suddenly rather than be eased out, an effect that can be disturbing at high volume.

The trilingual booklet does not contain song texts, but a summary of each song by Igor Prokhorov and Nicholas Walker, the latter also providing the erudite introductory notes. Both concept and execution of this album are to be applauded. Those who wish to drink at the well of Slavic music should add it to their collection.

Copyright © 31 October 2007 Paul Sarcich, London UK


Balakirev and Russian Folksong

TOCC 0018 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 79'28" 2007 Toccata Classics

Joseph Banowetz, piano; Russian Philharmonic Orchestra; Konstantin Krimets, conductor; Olga Kalugina, soprano; Svetlana Nikolayeva, mezzo soprano; Pavel Kolgatin, tenor; Alton Chung Ming Chang, piano four hands with Joseph Banowetz

Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (1837-1910): Grand Fantasia on Russian Folksongs for piano and orchestra Op 4; 30 Songs of the Russian People (two versions of each - original folksong followed by Balakirev's arrangement for piano duet): Dukhovnye: Dormition of the Mother of God; Egoriy the Brave; Lazar; The Last Judgement; The Book of the Dove; Byliny: The King's Sons from Kraków; Kostruk; Nikita Romanovich; Grisha Otrepyev; Vasiliy Okulyevic; The Razvoinik Brothers and their Sister; Birds and Animals; Wedding songs: They said: Fedot-ot doesn't drink beer ...; There were no winds ...; Are you, my river, little river ...; Oh, drinking berry ...; Many, many by a damp oak tree; Mummy wasn't hoping; My girlfriends, dear girlfriends ...; Oh you geese, you geese ...; Grave-harvest; There is a tree on a hill; Khorovodyne: I went into the garden; Our wide street; Utushnaya; Rowanberry and Raspberry; What a heart; It's enough for you, my dear, to walk in the field; Oh you, winter; She became, she became a colonel's wife


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