Voyage of a Slavic Soul
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
1 Gornimi tikho letela dusha nebesami, Op.27 No.1
(Softly the soul flew up to heaven)
2 Nimfa, Op.56 No.1
3 Son v letnuyu noch, Op.56 No.2
(Summer Night’s Dream)
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Love Songs, Op.83
4 I Ó, naší lásce nekvete
(Oh, that longed-for happiness)
5 II V tak mnohém srdci mrtvo jest
(So many a heart is as though dead)
6 III Kol domu se ted’ potácím
(Around the house now I stagger)
7 IV Já vím, že v sladké naději
(I know, with sweet hope)
8 V Nad krajem vévodí lehký spánek
(Over the landscape a light slumber reigns)
9 VI Zde v lese u potoka
(In the woods by the stream)
10 VII V té sladké moci očí tvých
(In that sweet power of your eyes)
11 VIII Ó, duše drahá, jedinká
(Oh dear, matchless soul)
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
12 Nam zviozdi krotkie siali, Op.60 No.12
(Gentle stars were shining upon us)
13 Den li tsarit, Op.47 No.6
(Can it be day?)
14 Otchevo, Op.6 No.5
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
15 Oh never sing to me again, Op.4 No.4
16 The Harvest of Sorrow, Op.4 No.5
17 How fair this spot, Op.21 No.7
18 Spring Waters, Op.14 No.11
19 Arion, Op.34 No.5
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928
Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949)
The Fairytale of the Heart, Op.8
24 I Píseň melancholická
25 II Zda není snem
(Is it a dream?)
26 III Večer
27 IV Podzimní nálada
28 V Až přejde den
(When the day ends)
Slavic culture embraces a range of ancient folk styles and is found within old Russian, Ukrainian, Czech and Moravian societies, among others. This recital explores an array of songs influenced, whether subtly or overtly, by Slavic music and poetry.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Gornimi tikha (‘Softly the soul flew up to heaven’), Op.27 No.1 (1882-3) was written in the wake of his opera, The Snow Maiden, after which he struggled creatively, feeling that he had said most of what he wanted to say. The song sets an unusual poem by Tolstoy in which a soul in heaven longs to return to Earth to provide solace to those in pain, represented by a vocal line that soars above the piano part. Rimsky-Korsakov’s creative crisis lifted in 1888-9, when Wagner’s Ring Cycle brought fresh inspiration. His Two Songs, Op.56, date from 1898, and set poetry by Maykov. Nimfa (‘The nymph’), about a near miss between a lonely nymph and a sailor, features an undulating piano part full of delicious harmonies underpinning a captivating melody, while the seductive fantasy of ‘Summer Night’s Dream’ begins with a magical piano introduction before the soprano unleashes an increasingly ecstatic, almost operatic, melody.
Antonín Dvořák began his career as a professional violist in Prague’s theatrical orchestras. To supplement his paltry income, Dvořák gave piano lessons, and from 1865 he taught the daughters of a Prague goldsmith, Josefína and Anna Čermáková. He fell in love with Josefína, but his feelings were unreciprocated; like Mozart, he ended up marrying the younger sister of the woman he had first loved. Antonín and Anna were married in 1873 and had nine children, six of whom survived infancy. The song cycle Cypřiše (‘Cypresses’, B11) was written in 1865, with eight of the songs later revised as Dvořák’s Love Songs, Op.83, in 1888; Dvořák had arranged 12 of the songs for string quartet the year before. All of the texts are by Gustav Pfleger-Moravský, and the rhythm of the words informs Dvořák’s approach to his melodic lines throughout the cycle. He was concerned with capturing the mood of each poem, in the process exhibiting a romanticism that shows the influence of Schubert and Schumann.
The opening song, Ó naší lásce nekvete (‘Oh, that longed-for happiness’), is a tender, resigned farewell to a love that has not bloomed; V tak mnohem srdci mrtvo jest (‘So many a heart is as though dead’) is more melancholy still, reflecting on hearts bereft of love briefly hoping that it has returned. The third song, Kol domu se ted´potácím (‘Around the house now I stagger’) includes folk-like motifs to illustrate the erratic wanderings of a rejected lover, while in the lyrical Já vím, že v sladké naději (‘I know, with sweet hope’), joy is allowed to flourish until the last lines reveal that love is overshadowed by an impending threat, illustrated by Dvořák with a delicate piano postlude that ends ambiguously. Nad krajem vévodí lehký spánek (‘Over the landscape a light slumber reigns’) is structured in a similar way, full of pleasant imagery until the very last lines, with Dvořák reflecting each aspect of the text through shapely melody and varied, vivid piano writing. Zde v lese u potoka (‘In the woods by the stream’) is gently introspective, with another subtly chilling ending, while V té sladké moci oči tvých (‘In that sweet power of your eyes’) is more ardent, but again with phrasing that closely follows the text. The cycle ends with the sublime, other-worldly Ó duše dráha jedinká (‘Oh dear, matchless soul’).
In 1886, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky renewed his friendship with the Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov, who informed the composer that the Empress wanted him to write something for her. Tchaikovsky responded with the Romances, Op.60 (1886), of which No.12, Nam zviozdi krotkie siali (‘Gentle stars were shining upon us’) is to a text by Pescheyev reminiscing about past love. Tchaikovsky’s songs of 1878-1885 displayed a confident facade beneath which he charted the events of his life in collections such as his Op.47 (1880), which reflected a painful encounter with Antonina Miliukova, the student he had married with disastrous consequences in 1877. To a text by Apukhtin, Den li tsarit (‘Can it be day?’, No.6) is a full-throated outpouring of unfulfilled longing, a theme that would recur throughout the composer’s life. Similarly, the earlier Op.6 songs directly addressed aspects of Tchaikovsky’s personal life, in this case his courtship of the Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt in 1868. They were engaged until Artôt’s refusal to move or to curtail her career put an end to the relationship. Otchevo (‘Why?’, Op.6, No.5), to words by Heinrich Heine, is a poignant reflection on faded love, articulated through an increasingly powerful soprano line supported by the piano’s chordal accompaniment.
Sergei Rachmaninov composed songs throughout his career, and while their reputation may have been overshadowed by the grand passions of his large-scale works, the concision of song distils into concentrated form the very essence of his style. The Op.4 songs were written not long after the success of Rachmaninov’s opera, Aleko in the spring of 1893. Tchaikovsky was delighted with Aleko, and this encouragement from one of his heroes motivated Rachmaninov to complete the Op.4 and Op.8 sets of songs during the summer and autumn of the same year. Some of the Six Romances, Op.4 had been begun earlier, and the fourth, Oh, never sing to me again, dates from 1892. The song begins with a melancholic introduction, the piano unfolding long, introspective phrases in the right hand over the left hand’s gentle accompaniment. The melodic contours and sorrowful tone of the introduction are taken up by the voice, which enters with an anguished cry, reflecting Pushkin’s text, in which the narrator seeks escape from painful memories. The next song in the set, The Harvest of Sorrow, is to words by Tolstoy in which the poet’s thoughts are likened to grain in a field being blown in all directions before a seed of grief takes root. The soprano’s line has the quality of Russian folk music, while the piano part illustrates the blustery imagery of the text.
Rachmaninov’s 12 Songs, Op.21 (1900-2), were written not long after the composition of his Piano Concerto No.2 and echo its lush, Romantic style. Rachmaninov really hit his song-writing stride in the Op.12 songs, which achieve a poised balance between voice and piano. The piano’s role becomes integral to the communication of each text, adding layers of musical insight or commentary to those of the voice. How fair this spot, Op.21 No.7, to poetry by Galina, paints a picture of an idyll in whichman, God and Nature are in perfect harmony, the soprano line soaring above the piano’s rich cushion of sound. This blissful mood continues in Spring Waters, the eleventh of the 12 Romances, Op.14, to words by Tyutchev celebrating the impending joys of spring. The piano part’s running lines build up energy and anticipation, leading into passionate outbursts from both voice and piano.
In 1909 Rachmaninov embarked on his first American tour, which he did not enjoy; afterwards he retreated to his Russian country estate at Ivanovka where, over the next few summers, he wrote a number of significant works including the 14 Songs, Op.34 (1910-12). Rachmaninov’s experience of writing the choral symphony, The Bells, with its prominent vocal solos, informed his approach to his final sets of songs, Opp.34 and 38. Rachmaninov tailored his Op.34 songs to the singers Chaliapin, Litvin, Sobinov and Nezhdanova, and used the piano part to accentuate key words in the texts, which are by prominent Russian Romantics. Arion (No.5) is to a brooding poem by Pushkin about a shipwreck from which the narrator is the only survivor, a subject that elicits from Rachmaninov a stormy response.
Leoš Janáček compiled his 53 folksong arrangements entitled Moravská lidová poezie v písních or ‘Moravian folk poetry in songs’, JW V/2, between 1892 and 1901. Moravia is one of the three historical Czech regions, the others being Bohemia and Czech Silesia; like Dvořák and Smetana, Janáček embraced the folk music of his homeland and arranged it or incorporated it into his own compositions. The first song, Láska (‘Love’), is concise but deeply expressive, while Stálost (‘Constancy’), No.16, is a restless song full of irrepressible forward motion. Rozmarýn (‘Rosemary’, No.30) features a soulful, expansive vocal line over subtly illustrative piano gestures, and the joyful Muzikanti, No.50, takes wedding ‘Musicians’ as its subject.
Vítězslav Novák was also fascinated by Moravian folk music and was deeply influenced by Janáček, with whom he became familiar in 1897 – a year after writing his Pohádka srdce (‘A Tale of the Heart’), Op.8 for voice and piano or orchestra. Songs Nos.1, 2 and 4 are to poetry by Ivan Olbracht; No.3 sets words by Jaroslav Vrchlický, and No.5 by Josef Václav Sládek. Throughout, Novák’s intimate understanding of the words shines, with vocal lines that are melodically inventive whilst following closely the nuances of the text. The set opens with the sorrowful Píseň melancholická (‘Melancholy song’), Novák’s use of melody emphasising aspects of the poem with subtle commentary from the piano. Zda není snem? (‘Is it a dream?’) is operatic in its wide-ranging emotions, contrasted with the romanticism of Večer (‘Evening’). Podzimní nálada (‘Autumn mood’) includes blustery piano writing and an agile vocal line, ending enigmatically, and the cycle concludes with Až přejde den (‘When the day ends’), once again demonstrating Novák’s exceptional gift for melody.
Despite her name, Natalya Romaniw was born in Wales. Natalya’s grandfather, affectionately named ‘Dido’ and to whose memory this album is dedicated, was Ukrainian and settled in Wales during the Second World War. This album is dedicated to his memory.
Growing up in Swansea, with her Dido being the only musical influence in Natalya’s life. She remembers fondly singing along to Ukrainian folk songs and music all played on the accordion by her Dido. She was always encouraged to take part in many a sing-along at the Ukrainian club in Morriston, Swansea. The sound of the bare voices of the Ukrainian men singing unaccompanied in harmony instilled in Natalya a vivid memory of colours, emotions and expressions painted by their raw instruments.
Later on, after she had studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and at the Houston Grand Opera Studio in TX, USA, Natalya made her first poignant mark in the Slavic repertoire as the young heroine ‘Tatyana’ in Garsington Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin. Her interpretation of the role has since lead to critical acclaim across the UK and opened the door to many interpretations of other Slavic heroines including Tchaikovsky’s ‘Lisa’ in Queen of Spades, the title role of the same composer’s Iolanta and the title roles of Janáček’s Jenufa and Dvořák’s Rusalka.
Often noted for the Slavic influence in the timbre of her voice, it is perhaps no surprise that Natalya feels a deep-rooted connection to the music of these composers and strongly feels that it is a legacy of her Ukrainian heritage.
Lada Valešová continues to make an indelible mark with her original artistry, imaginative music exploration and dramaturgy. Her album of songs and chamber music by Pavel Haas Fata Morgana (Resonus) was nominated for the BBC Music Magazine Awards and selected Europadisc CD of the Year. Her albums of piano music Intimate Studies and Dumka (Avie) have received universal critical acclaim. Inspired by her Czech and Russian heritage and having lived and worked most of her artistic life in London, Lada enjoys exploring and presenting to the public lesser known repertoire with Slavic and middle European links.
Lada graduated from the Prague Conservatoire and Prague Music Academy, followed by London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama where she is now a professor. She is also an opera coach at the Royal Academy of Music and has worked for a number of international opera companies including the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Hamburgische Staatsoper and the Kungliga Operan Stockholm.
Lada has performed at various prestigious venues and international music festivals. As Music Director and pianist of the acclaimed production Diary of One Who Disappeared directed by Ivo van Hove, Lada has performed on an international tour, making her debuts at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio, BAM New York, Beijing International Music Festival and Muziekgebouw Amsterdam among others. Building upon her all-round music and artistic experience, Lada is embracing a new chapter of her artistic journey and will be making her London debut as the conductor for the Young Artists performance of Eugene Onegin at the Opera Holland Park.