Olena Tokar, sporano
Igor Gryshyn, piano
Release Date: 2nd April
Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879-1964)
1 Die stille Stadt | The silent town 3.12
2 In meines Vaters Garten | In my father’s garden 4.55
3 Laue Sommernacht: Am Himmel | Mild summer night in the sky 2.23
4 Bei dir ist es traut | I am at ease with you 1.55
5 Ich wandle unter Blumen | I wander among the flowers 1.04
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
6 Liebst du um Schönheit | If you love for beauty 2.20
7 Er ist gekommen | He came in storm and rain (Op.12 No.2) 2.29
8 Warum willst du and’re fragen | Why will you question others (Op.12 No.11) 2.17
9 O Lust, o Lust, vom Berg ein Lied | Oh joy, oh joy (Op.23 No.6) 1.50
10 Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort| Soft, secret whispers here and there (Op.23 No.3) 4.03
Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1910)
11 Nixe Binsefuß | The mermaid Rushfoot 3.29
12 Hai luli | I am sad, I am troubled 3.52
13 Der Gärtner | The gardener 1.29
14 На холмах Грузии | On Georgian hills 2.07
15 Две розы | Two roses 0.58
16 Тихо вечер догорает | Golden glow of the mountain peaks 2.02
17 Не пой, красавица, при мне | Do not sing, my beauty, to me 2.39
Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915-1940)
18 Navždy | Forever (Op.12 No.1) 2.18
19 Potkali se včera lidé dva | Two people met yesterday 1.40
20 Až jednoho dne se budeš ptát | One day you will ask 1.42
21 Ruce | Hands (Op.12 No.3) 1.31
Total time 50.14
Olena Tokar, soprano
Igor Gryshyn, piano
This recording includes the works of female composers Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot, and Vítězslava Kaprálová who were the muses of great artists such as Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Alexander von Zemlinsky, Ivan Turgenev and Jiří Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.
In addition to providing inspiration, each of these women has made a rich creative contribution to musical heritage. In this selection of pieces, we explored the stylistic changes and transitions between the eras of the 19th and 20th centuries.
We were guided by the harmonious combination of well-known and little-known songs, and in sharing this diversity with the listener, we want to immerse you in the entire palette of the inner world of the composers.
Some of the most significant women in music are only just beginning to emerge from the shadows of the celebrated men with whom they are associated. Alma Mahler-Werfel and Clara Schumann are two of the most prominent examples, invariably mentioned in the same breaths as their husbands. It’s a tendency that’s to some extent understandable, in that we value familiar reference points when finding out about the unfamiliar, yet also problematic (and parallel, similarly troubling instances of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor being labelled the ‘African Mahler’ or Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges as the ‘Black Mozart’, are remarkably recent). For the marginalised to become mainstream it is important not to place too much value on their worth in relation to some better-known person, but rather to endeavour to hear their output with fresh and open ears.
Yet it is impossible to listen with true objectivity; Mozart’s music might sound ‘less innovative’ after one has heard Beethoven, because our judgement is clouded by what came after the earlier composer, making it difficult to discern how an artist would have been received by his or her contemporaries. Similarly, we cannot hear the music of marginalised composers freed from the canon that has shaped our tastes. In the end, equality will be achieved when forgotten or underrated figures do not have to conform to a particular definition of excellence in order to be heard; when they, too, are given the space simply to speak and to be listened to.
Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879-1964) was born in Vienna. She later described herself as “a nervous child, fairly bright, with the typical hop-skip-jump brains of precocity … I could not think anything through, and was never able to keep a date in mind, and took no interest in anything but music.” She studied music with Josef Labor and composition with Alexander Zemlinsky, with whom she had a brief relationship; she was also mentored by the Burgtheater’s director Max Burckhard. Yet Alma resented the lack of a really substantial education: “Why are boys taught to use their brains, but not girls? I can see it in my own case. My mind has not been schooled, which is why I have such frightful difficulty with everything. Sometimes I really try, force myself to think, but my thoughts vanish into thin air. And I really want to use my mind. I really do. Why do they make everything so terribly difficult for girls?”
She began composing at an early age and produced in excess of 50 songs, but her husband Gustav Mahler demanded that she cease composing as a condition of their marriage. Alma became depressed by this curtailing of her creativity, and embarked on an affair with Walter Gropius, who was to be her second husband (later succeeded by her third, the writer Franz Werfel). Gustav attempted to patch things up by encouraging Alma’s compositions and helping to prepare them for publication. Alma Mahler-Werfel’s Five Songs were published not long before Gustav’s death in 1911; they were composed between 1899 and 1910.
Alma selected poems by some of the finest writers of the age for these works. The Silent Town is to an atmospheric poem by Richard Dehmel, its mysterious undercurrents explored by Mahler-Werfel in a song suffused with chromaticism, its underlying tensions erupting before being stilled at the song’s end. In My Father’s Garden, to words by Otto Erich Hartleben, is wonderfully layered, an apparently carefree, sometimes playful song in a waltzing 6/8 time, with hints of wistful nostalgia, even deep longing, occasionally surfacing. Julius Bierbaum’s Mild Summer Night in the Sky inspired in Mahler-Werfel a concise yet blissful song that ends without resolving, leaving the listener suspended, wondering what will come next. The serene I Am At Ease With You is a setting of Rainer Maria Rilke, and the group concludes with I Wander Among the Flowers to words by Heinrich Heine. The song might almost conjure up what we know of Alma herself: initially introspective yet seductive, with toying, passionate outbursts and a witty conclusion – a complex, irrepressible whirlwind of characteristics.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was given a thorough grounding in music by her father, Friedrich, who could be cruel and despotic – and who strongly objected to her attachment to Robert Schumann – but whose discipline she regarded with a surprising amount of gratitude, as she wrote in 1894:
“My father had to put up with being called a tyrant; however, I still thank him for it every day; I have him to thank for the freshness that has remained with me in my old age (at least in my art). It was also a blessing for me that he was exceedingly strict, that he reprimanded me when I deserved it and in so doing, prevented me from becoming arrogant from the praise the world showered on me. At times the rebuke was bitter, but it was still good for me!”
That shower of praise stemmed from Clara’s prodigious abilities as a pianist, but also as a composer; her audiences were impressed both by her playing and by her music. She first performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus aged nine, making her formal debut there at 11, before performing in Paris at 12 and delighting Viennese audiences at 18. After a bitter court case between her father and Robert Schumann, Clara was married just before her 21st birthday. She and Robert Schumann were a real meeting of minds, mutually encouraging and inspiring. Even so, Robert’s output took priority, and Clara often had to limit her own work so that her husband’s was not disturbed. She stopped composing when Robert died.
They both turned to song-writing at a similar time; Robert wrote in 1840: “Oh Clara, what bliss it is to write songs, I can’t tell you how easy it has become for me… it is music of an entirely different kind, which doesn’t have to pass through the fingers – far more melodious and direct.” Three of Clara’s earliest songs were given to Robert during their first Christmas together, and three of her Op.12 songs (1840) became part of a joint collection (Robert Schumann’s Op.37) to words by Friedrich Rückert: If You Love For Beauty, He Came In Storm And Rain and Why Will You Question Others.
Clara Schumann’s Six Lieder from Jucunde, Op.23, from which we hear Nos. 6 and 3, date from June 1853, by which time her husband’s mental state was increasingly fragile (he died in a sanatorium in 1856). The poet Hermann Rollett read in the newspaper that his poetic novel had inspired a song cycle by “Schumann” and he wrote to Robert to ask about it. He received a reply informing him that the songs had been written by Clara, and that Robert would have been impressed with them even if they had been written by someone other than his wife. In December 1856, after Robert’s death, Clara Schumann met with Rollett and presented him with a copy of her recently published Op. 23, signed to the “esteemed poet with friendly remembrances”. The cycle is dedicated to the soprano Livia Frege.
Robert Schumann dedicated his Heine songs, Op. 24, to the soprano and composer Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1910), whom both Clara and Robert had met in Leipzig; he also published one of her songs in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Later, when Viardot-García retired to Baden-Baden, she would play piano duets with Clara Schumann. With her three-octave range and dramatic style, Pauline García (who married the director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris, writer Louis Viardot, in 1840) inspired and collaborated creatively with composers including Chopin, Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Liszt, Wagner, Meyerbeer and Gounod. During her first concert tour, which took her to Germany in 1838, she performed her own songs, accompanying herself at the piano. George Sand depicted Viardot-García as the heroine of one of her novels, Consuelo.
Whereas Alma Mahler-Werfel and Clara Schumann were expected to prioritise their husbands, Viardot gave up his career to accompany his wife on her tours; their first child was looked after by her mother. She spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, English, German and Russian. She did not consider herself a composer, yet wrote over 100 songs in different national styles. One of her operettas, Le dernier sorcier (1869), was also performed in an orchestral version; critic Henry Chorley wrote: “It is not possible to conceive anything of its kind more perfect in quaint fantasy, real charm and complete execution”.
The songs chosen for this recital demonstrate the quality and variety of Pauline Viardot-García’s output. The Mermaid Rushfoot and The Gardener are the second and third of her Three Lieder after Eduard Mörike (1870). During 1862-3 Viardot-García composed the 12 Songs after Pushkin, Fet and Turgenev (the last of whom was steadfastly devoted to her), from which we hear the second, On Georgian Hills and eighth, Two Roses. Golden glow of the Mountain Peaks and Do Not Sing, My Beauty, To Me (both 1863-65) are to German texts by Bodenstedt based on Russian poems by Fet and Pushkin respectively. Haï Luli! (I Am Sad, I Am Troubled) is set to poetry by Xavier de Maistre, dates from 1880 and is the fourth of Pauline Viardot-García’s Six Melodies and a Havanaise.
Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915-1940) was a Czech composer and conductor whose career was tragically cut short by her death aged 25 from misdiagnosed miliary tuberculosis. She had got married, to writer Jiří Mucha, just two months earlier. Kaprálová’s achievements were remarkable: her output includes art songs, chamber music, two piano concertos and numerous symphonic works, much of which was published during her lifetime. Her education included tuition with Novák and Martinů; she conducted the Czech Philharmonic in 1937; and her music was admired by conductor Rafael Kubelík, among others. Many of Kaprálová’s songs exude a perfumed, whole-tone impressionism. Forever is the first of a cycle of three songs of the same name, Op.12 (1936-1937). Two People Met Yesterday and One Day You Will Ask are both from an incomplete song cycle to Kaprálová’s own texts, composed in 1931. The recital ends with Hands, Op.12
No. 3, a sumptuous, harmonically hazy song that concludes with soaring passion.
© Joanna Wyld, 2021
Olena Tokar graduated from the Music College in Lugansk and went on to study at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy in Kiev. In 2010, she began her operatic studies at the University of Music and Theatre in Leipzig under the direction of Professor Regina Werner Dietrich and received the first Christine Kühne-Award at the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival in 2016.
Having won many significant awards including the Grand Prize at the International Boris Gmyrya Competition in Kiev (2008), one of the most prestigious singing competitions in Ukraine, Olena was also a finalist at the Ferruccio Tagliavini competition in Austria (2010). From here she secured a finalist place at the Francisco competition in Barcelona (2012), and in the same year was awarded first prize at both the Lortzing Competition in Leipzig and the renowned ARD International Music Competition in Munich.
Olena participated in the Young Singers Project at the Salzburg Festival (2011), was a finalist of the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition and was a BBC New Generation Artist for the 13/14 and 14/15 seasons.
Olena is a member of the Leipzig Opera where she has sung roles including Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Pamina (Die zauberflöte), Zdenka (Arabella), Anna (Nabucco), Liù (Turandot), Micaëla (Carmen), Marguerite (Faust), Musetta and Mimi (La bohème), Röschen (Sleeping Beauty), Die Stimme des Falken (Die Frau ohne Schatten), Antigona (Admeto, re di Tessaglia), and Norina (Don Pasquale). Elsewhere, Olena has sung the role of Marguerite (Faust) with the Dresden Semperoper, Mimi (La bohème) at the prestigious Verbier Festival, made her house debut as Violetta (La Traviata) with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, her house and role debut as Juliette in Grange Park Opera’s Roméo et Juliette, and debuted at Oper Köln in the title role of Rusalka.
Concert performances have included Hänsel und Gretel with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Mozart’s Concert Arias with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Orff’s Carmina Burana at the BBC Proms, Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate with the Ulster Orchestra, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Orchestre National de Lille and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and Respighi’s Il tramonto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
German-Ukrainian pianist Igor Gryshyn studied piano under S. Polusmjak, A. Sevidov, H. Sahling and G. Fauth, all of whom have graduated from the Russian School of Pianists, such as R. Horowitz, L. Oborin, S. Feinberg and L. Vlassenko. An intensive period of studying under Vladimir Ashkenazy was particularly formative for him artistically. A lively musical exchange took place with the world-famous conductor and pianist, and several solo programmes were developed together.
Igor attended several masterclasses with Vladimir Krajnew, Leslie Howard, Konstantin Scherbakov, El Bacha and Vladimir Ovchinnikow before making his debut in 2005, when he graduated with honours as the youngest graduate in the history of the university at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
Igor has won prizes at international youth competitions in Japan, Ukraine, and Germany. He has given concerts in music centres such as the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, the Gasteig Munich, the Tonhalle Zurich, the Steinway Hall and Wigmore Hall in London and the Moscow Philharmonic, as well as in South Korea, China, Spain, Malta, Lebanon, France, Holland, the Czech Republic and Serbia. Igor is a juror at the international piano competition “Sirmuim Music Fest”.
As a soloist, Igor has performed with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Anissimov, the “Musica Viva” chamber orchestra under Alexander Rudin and the Kharkov Symphony Orchestra. Chamber music represents an important and indispensable part of his artistic work. Numerous recitals and programmes with the soprano Olena Tokar are documented by live and studio recordings by broadcasters such as BBC Radio 3 and BR, as well as the DVD production Eastern Romance.
Igor has recorded solo programmes with works by Bach, Ravel, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev for MDR Kultur. In addition, a solo recording was produced on the Querstand label in cooperation with the Friends of the University of Music and Theater in Leipzig.
In recent years Igor has been a regular guest at concert series such as Art and Justice at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, at the Mecklenburg Western Pomerania Festival, the Mannheim Palace Concerts, and the Leipzig Chopin Days.
Since 2011 Igor has been teaching piano at the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy University of Music and Theater in Leipzig. His master classes for young pianists have taken him to China, South Korea, and Lebanon.