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Russian Settings of Robert Burns
Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998) Songs to Verses by Robert Burns (1955) [32:11]
Edison DENISOV (1929-1996) Two Songs to Verses by Robert Burns (1951) [3:51]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Three songs from Six Romances for Bass: excerpts (1942) [6:57]
Yuri LEVITIN (1912-1993) Song-Cycle to Verses by Robert Burns (1956) [11:03]
Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (1913-2007) Three songs from Five Songs to Verses by Robert Burns (1944) [6:41]
Vassili Savenko (bass-baritone); Alexander Blok (piano)
rec. Great Hall, Moscow Conservatoire, 6, 8, 10, 15 September 2002, 15 September 2005. DDD
first recordings apart from Shostakovich and Sviridov
Full details at end of review
TOCCATA TOCC0039 [60:34]
Experience Classicsonline


All credit to Martin Anderson’s Toccata Classics for originality in spinning together this varied and tonally lyrical Soviet song anthology. Varied it may be but it has a golden thread in the form of Robert Burns and his poetry.

With his Russian translations the Voronezh-born writer Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak (1887-1964) helped make Burns' poetry accessible in Soviet Russia; not that he did not have predecessors. His translations received wide currency and Burns' people's poet sentiments and free-thinking reputation tapped into the Soviet philosophy. Marshak also translated Shakespeare (sonnets) and William Blake's poetry as well as tales by Rudyard Kipling – the latter famously set by Lokshin in his magnificent Third Symphony.

Sviridov’s fine nine-song sequence is from 1955 and is the single largest items here. It recalls a sort of intermittent trade-off between Shostakovich and Finzi in ghoulish, swinging or reflective mood and lugubrious and sinister Mussorgsky in Songs and Dances of Death. Starlight glimmers in Findlay but Sviridov time after time produces clever and indelibly memorable effects such as the peg-leg jerk in Gorsky paren. Denisov’s two songs are short. They are in an idiom similar to that of Sviridov but somehow less adventurous though still deeply pleasing. Further back in time we go to Shostakovich and his three songs from op. 62. These are not as angular or as cordite-fragrant as we might have expected. The first is melancholy, the second charnel-jolly and the last a charmer with a wicked seductive wink. The five by Yuri Levitin are surprisingly troubadour style – ringingly confident and for the most part cheerful with the occasional grin from the skull beneath or a moment for desperate lovelorn sadness as in Had I a Cave. Here Levitin imbues the song with a musical treatment that suggests a deeper worldly sorrow. Khrennikov’s three songs date from two years after those of Shostakovich. They are again in a mildly sentimental troubadour style – engaging yet with a darker under-belly.

Savenko is an oaken-sturdy coal-toned intelligent singer with a bit of vibrato but just the right side of objection. He is truly magnificent in a lustily resounding high note in the last Khrennikov song. Blok throughout matches Savenko in sympathy, skill and insight. Each artist is captured in natural and pleasing sound.

The poems are given in the booklet in their sung language. The Russian words are printed in Cyrillic rather than transliteration. Translations into English are given side by side with the original text. In addition there are two sturdily rewarding and extensive articles which are smack-bang on target.

Is there really a dissenting subtext in these songs? I doubt it and wonder whether such exegesis is rooted anywhere. It hardly matters. These are fine or at the very least fascinating songs. Anyone interested in the art-song in the last century needs to hear them. I hope there will be more from the Soviet era. If you enjoy songs by Britten, Poulenc or Finzi you will find reward in these.


Rob Barnett

Full song listing

Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998) Songs to Verses by Robert Burns
1. 'The Winter of Life [5:19]
2. 'The Soldier's Return [3:12]
3. 'John Anderson, my Jo [4:19]
4. 'Rantin', Rovin [Robin [1:42]
5. 'The Highland Laddie [2:38]
6. 'Wha is that at my bower-door? [3:21]
7. 'Gudewife, count the Lawin [3:52]
8. 'A Red, Red Rose [3:46]
9. 'A man's a man for a [that [3:51]
Edison DENISOV (1929-1996) Two Songs to Verses by Robert Burns
'Somewhere a lassie lived [2:03]
'Comin thro [the Rye [1:20]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Three songs from Six Romances
2. 'O, wert thou in the cauld blast [3:13]
3. 'MacPherson's Farewell [2:05]
4. 'Comin thro [the Rye [1:44]
Yuri LEVITIN (1912-1993) Song-Cycle to Verses by Robert Burns
Song-Cycle, Op. 51:
1. 'A red, red rose [2:00]
2. 'John Anderson, my Jo [2:02
3. 'Sheila O'Neil [1:53]
4. 'Had I a cave [3:17]
5, 'Of a [the airts the wind can blaw [1:43]
Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (1913-2007) Three songs from Five Songs to Verses by Robert Burns
1. 'Auld Lang Syne [2:45]
2. 'The Highland Laddie [1:58]
3. 'O, wert thou in the cauld blast [1:54


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