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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Songs: Five Poems, Op. 36 (1921) [15’36]. The Ugly Duckling, Op. 18 (1914) [12’04]. Five Songs without Words, Op. 35 (1920) [11’55]. Four Songs from Five Poems, Op. 23; (1915) [20’14] – Under the roof; A Grey Dress; Trust Me; In my garden. Five Akhmatova Poems,Op. 27 (1916) [10’22]. Three Romances, Op. 73 (1936) [9’27].
Claudia Barainsky (soprano); Axel Bauni (piano).
Rec. Bavarian Radio Studio No. 2, 5th-9th Nov 2001.

The resurgence of interest in the byways of Sergei Prokofiev’s output on the fiftieth anniversary of his death has been most welcome, whether the fruits be in the concert hall or in the record shop. In 2001, Delos issued a three-disc ‘complete’ edition of Prokofiev’s songs (DE3275 review), which remains an invaluable, if somewhat artistically lumpy, document. Orfeo, as part of their innovative ‘Edition zeitgenössiches Lied’ series, provide the perfect partner to the Delos.

Claudia Barainsky has a wide repertoire that includes works by Nono, Reimann, Zemlinsky and Berg (this year she adds Bernd Alois Zimmermann to the list, taking on Marie in Die Soldaten in Amsterdam). Hardly surprising that she feels at home here in Prokofiev, therefore. She also has the advantage of the ever-sensitive Axel Bauni to back her up. Bauni’s insights into the accompaniments are a consistent delight of this disc.

A good idea to begin with the Op. 36 Bal’mont settings, so that the Ugly Duckling comes cocooned within the Prokofievian sound-world rather than slightly set-off. The piano accompaniment to the first song is archetypal Prokofiev, the harmonies characteristically peppered (for the spiky, playful side of this composer, try the third song). The fifth song emerges as the finest of the set, with its bleak harmonies and dream-like vocal line. Barainsky and Bauni seem as one in their interpretation, making for mesmerizing listening.

The Songs without Words of 1915 are simply beautiful, and it is difficult to imagine a more convincing performance than here. Barainsky possesses a voice that can convey the disembodied, floating aura of the first two songs to perfection, and Bauni spins the accompanimental web of the third magically. But it is the Akhmatova settings of Op. 27 (1916) that seem to me to represent Prokofiev the song-writer at his finest. Bauni is superb in the active piano part of the first; both performers realize the desolation of the third and the bare, stark gestures of the fourth with great impact. Only in the second setting could Barainsky’s vocal line, perhaps, been even cleaner. The texts, which deal with a disintegrating relationship, must surely touch the most granite of hearts.

The beauty of the Op. 23 songs comes across strongly here (the purity of Barainsky’s higher register is particularly worthy of note), as do some of Prokofiev’s ‘quirks’ (try the ‘slip and slidy’ piano part of No. 2). Apt, though, that this recital closes with the Op. 73 Romances, written at the time of the composer’s return to the Soviet Union after his sojourn in Paris. Op. 73 formed part of the Pushkin celebrations (on the centenary of the poet’s death). Although the shortest set on the disc (and the only one to come in at less than ten minutes), this brevity suits the concentration of expression.

Barainsky and Bauni, in final analysis, do get closer to the heart of Prokofiev than their Delos rivals. All the more unfortunate, then, that there are no Russian texts, transliterated or otherwise (translations are taken from Delos, Chandos and Hyperion).

Colin Clarke



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