This is an overdue release. Many aspects of the production place it some way over its rivals. The singing is idiomatic and jolly impressive - wonderful artists, there's no doubt of it. One review in the British press commended the accompanist especially and I think that is right. It was his project and it sounds like a labour of great love for the music. Why have I only given four stars? I should have given four and a half, had it been possible but there are one or two slight detractions. Firstly, the set omits a few early songs which might have found a place in the set without any difficulty, as at least one of them is more attractive than some of the less interesting pieces of those in the early opus numbers. Secondly, Burnside wavers occasionally from the path of greatest commitment, where others have striven more mightily in the past. If you compare his account of "Spring Waters", one of the celebrated songs, with that of Gedda's partner, Alexis Weissenberg - all fire and exultation, you will see what I mean. But it's a minor fault. At the other end of the spectrum, one could cite "Melodiya", all filigree fingerwork and with that iffy misprint in the left hand near the end (why can't anyone see that it is a clear error by the composer?). One could imagine a performance spinning off, pianissimo, into fairyland and it certainly does not do that here. But if you had not heard or imagined it otherwise, you would not mind, so let it pass!
Rachmaninoff was not like his friend Nicolas Medtner, whose early compositions were somehow in quality and craftsmanship the equal of his later ones; Rachmaninoff very definitely got better and better as a writer as he grew older and more cynical (but less productive), even though he wrote his last set of songs before leaving Russia in 1917. As a song composer, Rachmaninoff begins like Tchaikovsky and ends up like....himself, and it is here that this three-disc set, excellently sung, played and recorded, truly excels. It is the finest crown jewel of all that Miss Siurina is given the op.38 songs, for you will not find a better version anywhere. If only the composer had not given up writing songs when he did; if only...
Perhaps the excellent team could look at Medtner's songs next; of course, half of them are in Russian and half are in German and they are harder to bring off than Rachmaninoff's, but the rewards are possibly greater still.
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