Reviews for IPCD 1008-1
Vinogradov Volume II
ARIAS, DUETS AND SONGS
Georgi Vinogradov (ten); Various accompanying artists
Music by ANON, BLANTER, GLINKA, GOUNOD, KHRENNIKOV, LISTOV, MASSENET, RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, SHAPORIN, SHEREMETIEV, SHOSTAKOVICH, TANEYEV, TCHAIKOVSKY, TERENTIEV, VILBOIS
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1008 (79:28)
It's been over four years since the first volume in this series was released. Then it was part of Guild Music's Russian Legacy line, which also included a fine set of arias and songs with the great mezzo Zara Dolukhanova, a superlative La traviata that featured Kozlovsky, Shumskaya, and Lisitsian, and a Roméo et Juliette with Kozlovsky, Shumskaya, Mikhailov, and Burlak. Despite statements that the Russian Legacy would continue, nothing else has recently appeared. The fact that the same people are involved in Immortal Performances-Jonathan Wearn as producer, Larry Friedman as consultant, Richard Caniell in restoration-shows where the talent has moved. Subtitling this initial album “The Russian Legacy” and referring to this Vinogradov CD as “Volume II” only makes the continuity less subtle. Clearly, the same team that garnered applause for all those previous releases is back. Lovers of Russian opera have considerable cause to rejoice.
Let's briefly recap the case for Georgi Vinogradov (1908-1980), just in case you forgot that initial review. He was one of a baker's dozen of outstanding Soviet tenors who could be heard in the 1940s and 1950s. Only Lemeshev and Kozlovsky developed international reputations, and that really hasn't changed over the years. Yet arguably, Vinogradov possessed the most beautiful voice of the lot, or shared that distinction with a young Ognevoi. He was essentially a radio singer who made his first recordings in 1938, and continued enjoying the prominence that comes with both broadcasts and commercial recordings through the mid 1950s. At that point, he dropped out of sight, though rumors circulated about a drunken brawl with a Polish officer that required Stalin's (!) intervention. No evidence has ever been supplied to back up this bizarre tale. Soviet sources mention concert appearances and a teaching position in this later phase of his life. At this point, it's the kind of thing that could probably be researched from the inside. Dulokhanova adds a delightfully personal touch by noting that the tenor spent his retirement happily fishing, with a vodka bottle in attendance.
Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no doubt about the value of Vinogradov's legacy. His many recordings reveal a remarkably sweet lyric voice, excellent enunciation, and an easy production that never displayed vocal strain. He was also a first-rate interpreter in intimate Russian romances, where his endless resources of color and natural, speech-like rhythms created a string of successes. So it proves, again on this release. Shaporin's Your southern voice is languid sounds as though it were one side of a conversation, now casual, now impassioned, rendered effortlessly into music, with Vinogradov following every expressive shift effortlessly. Then there's a jump of an octave up in Taneyev's The last conversation, landing easily on G, with a honeyed descent to B_ followed by a slow diminuendo into silence: one of those moments out of time that only great artists create.
Or consider Tchaikovsky's I wish I could pour into a single word. The Schumann-like main theme possesses a fairly short compass, and the breath requirements are so light even an asthmatic high baritone like me can manage it (badly). But like all fine singers, Vinogradov employs simple elements-accents, variations in dynamics, correct placement of the voice, a freely produced tone-to craft something small yet perfect, and perfectly memorable.
In recorded operatic excerpts and German art songs, Vinogradov's results were more mixed, and sometimes prosaic-a product of rushed tempos, inflexible accompaniments, or perhaps unfamiliarity with a foreign musical tradition. On this CD, “En fermant les yeux” from Manon feels pushed, with intonation suspect at a couple of points, despite some typically beautiful singing and phrasing. “The Song of the Hindu Guest” from Sadko is better, though Kozlovsky, at a slower pace, and with his eerily white tone, makes so much more of the piece's dreamy mood and opportunities for shading.
On the other hand, a group of genuine finds are five excerpts from a 1950 radio broadcast of Gounod's Philémon et Baucis that was commercially recorded. Kapitolina Rachevskaya provides a light, bright soubrette sound, handled with artistry. Vsyevolod Tyutyunnik's solid if not agile bass is heard to reasonably good effect as Vulcan, while the bluff, lighter bass-baritone of Alexei Korolev is welcome in what little we hear from Jupiter. (He was a superb character singer, his voice then in slow decline, who recorded frequently in those days-most notably a delightful Tsar Dodon in The Golden Cockerel.) But the best thing in this is, without any doubt, Vinogradov. There is a real sense of ensemble among the singers, and each has his or her moments, but the tenor alone rises consistently so far above the expected as to draw immediate attention for everything he does.
Finally, there are five traditional and newly composed folk or folk-style pieces, including four with the Red Army Ensemble. These exhibit little of the theatricality and character one would have good reason to expect from Maslennikov or Lemeshev; extroverted displays were not usually part of Vinogradov's musical makeup. But who can resist such vocal beauty and craft when applied to the haunting Amid the valley, or Terentiev's Winter evening?
Many different sources were used for these recordings, with attendant variations in quality. On all of these, Caniell has worked his usual magic, removing ticks, adjusting variable pitches, and improving frequency response. Friedman's liner notes are very detailed and excellent. It only remains to state that this is a very welcome release, and requisite for all fans of the great Russian lyric tenors.