The Russian Chamber Art Society
Embassy of Austria
Nicolai Medtner: Fairy Tale in f minor, opus 26, n° 3
Mikhail Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila (Ruslan’s aria, Lyudmila’s aria)
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Baba Yaga)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Iolanta (King René’s aria, Iolanta’s aria, Robert’s aria)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff: The Tale of Tsar Sultan (Flight of the Bumblebee, arranged by Sergei Rachmaninoff) – Sadko (Lyubava’s recitative and aria, Venetian guest’s aria, Varangian guest’s aria) - Fantasy on themes from The Golden Cockerel (violin transcription by Efrem Zimbalist) – The Snow Maiden (Lel’s third song, Duet of the Snow Maiden and Mizgir, The Melting Scene)
Irina Mozyleva (soprano), Magdalena Wor (mezzo-soprano), Anton Belov (baritone), Grigory Soloviov (basso), Emil Chudnovsky (solo violin), Artur Aksenov (solo piano), Vera Danchenko-Stern (Artistic Director, piano accompanist), Steven Mazzola (narrator)
A. Aksenov, S. Mazzola, V. Danchenko-Stern, E. Chudnovsky, A. Belov, G. Soloviov, M. Wor, I. Mozyleva (© Micaele Sparacino)
The Russian Chamber Arts Society continued its season with a captivating program, hosted by the Austrian Embassy, on “Russian Fairy Tale Operas” in their ongoing series of Masterworks of Russian Vocal Music This series is dedicated to Russian chamber vocal music, which is rarely heard in the United States and virtually absent from the concert halls.
Pianist Artur Aksenov, who opened the concert, set the “Fairy Tale” mood of the evening with an enchanting tone poem by Medtner. With his delicately sensitive phrasing he drew forth a rainbow of subtle colors from the Boesendorfer upon which he played. Like many Russian pianists, Mr. Aksenov possesses an extraordinary technique and virtuosity. He wowed the audience later in the evening with a rousing rendition of Mussorgsky’s Baba Yaga and the terrifying Flight of the Bumblebee in the outrageous arrangement by Rachmaninoff.
The lovely Belarus soprano Irina Mozyleva recently made her San Francisco Opera debut as Rosina in John Copley’s production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Her voice has a very sweet timbre and she keeps that beautifully rounded tone from top to bottom. Unusually expressive in her phrasing, she has a most fascinating way of delivering cadenzas as dramatic extensions of the music rather than flashy ornamentations. This was particularly evident in the melismas of Lyudmila’s aria. Glinka has often been called the “Russian Bellini,” and indeed, she brought a great deal of bel canto to his music. Her performance, which grew in vocal intensity each time she appeared on stage, reached its zenith with her exceptionally moving portrayal of the Snow Maiden’s Melting Scene.
Polish mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wor is one of the most active artists on the stages of Washington, D.C. A member of the Plácido Domingo-Cafritz young artist program at the Washington National Opera, she has been featured prominently in many productions of recent seasons in such roles as Enrichetta in I puritani, Grimgerge in Die Walkuere, and Zita in Gianni Schicchi. She is a physically beautiful woman with a full, warm, and luscious tone. She displays none of the “gear-stripping” register changes that so afflict Eastern European mezzos and contraltos. Her voice is perfectly blended and she uses it with great efficacy. Rimsky-Korsakoff’s music is full of the exotic perfume of the Orient and she really “opened the bottle” in her aria from Sadko. Rimsky’s music seemed to be written just for her.
Baritone Anton Belov has that unmistakably Russian sound. He is tall and displays an aristocratic and proud bearing. He must be an extraordinary Eugene Onegin, which he lists prominently in his repertoire, along with Don Giovanni and Escamillo. He also has thrillingly secure and brilliant high notes, which he uses with great aplomb, never failing to elicit bravos from the audience. This was most evident in Robert’s brilliant and high flying aria from Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. He should however, rethink his approach to acting. He has four or five stock gestures of the “Old School,” which he uses over and over and over and over again in everything he sings. In less of a vocal artist this would be most annoying. Fortunately, Mr. Belov’s singing is of the highest order and one is completely carried away by his singing. He superbly partnered Ms. Mozyleva in their duet from The Snow Maiden.
The young Russian basso Grigory Soloviov is a truly impressive young artist, both in voice and stature. He will be making his Metropolitan Opera debut next season. Keep your eyes out for this gentleman. He has all the makings of the next Ghiaurov or Nesterenko. Judging by audience response, he was clearly the favorite vocalist of the evening. Not only is Mr. Soloviov a classically tall basso, he is strikingly handsome. Mr. Soloviov is the winner of the Rising Star prize at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. His deep voice is “profondo” and resonant. Everything he sings is commanding and possessed of authority. Also a member of the Domingo-Cafritz young artist program, he is featured this season in La Traviata as Marchese D’Obigny and as Gazella in Lucrezia Borgia. He immediately brought down the house with his exciting delivery of King René’s aria from Iolanta. As the Varangian guest from Sadko he received an equally loud and approving ovation from the Embassy audience. I must confess that I was rather dazzled by his singing, and this in an evening full of great singing!
Violinist Emil Chudnovsky, twice a laureate of the “Premio Paganini”, first place winner at the Curci International Violin Competition in Naples, a winner at the Szeryng and Enescu International Competitions as well as a string of many other prizes, set the hall ablaze with an hypnotic and breathtaking performance Efrem Zimbalist’s transcription of themes from The Golden Cockerel. He was certainly not to be outdone in virtuosity by the singers or pianist Aksenov. Concert transcriptions have fallen out of favor in recent years but were once the mainstay of all great virtuosos. Just think of the many transcriptions by Fritz Kreisler alone! Mr. Chudnovsky’s playing recalled another time and era. Rimsky-Korsakoff’s music in The Golden Cockerel is composed of 1001 exotic melodies, woven into the score like an oriental tapestry. It is full of long descending chromatic lines, which are tantalizing and entrancing. Mr. Chudnovsky brought out the full measure of the music, seeming to set the violin ablaze with his bravura display of technique. One could easily see why he has won the First Prize in so many competitions. Although it was his only appearance of the evening, he received one of longest and most enthusiastic ovations and it was well deserved.
The brain behind the RCAS, the one who designs the programs and engages the artists is the remarkable Vera Danchenko-Stern. A woman of impeccable taste, talent, and capability, she also served as piano accompanist to the singers. She is a wizard at the piano, shaping each phrase to fit each singer’s voice like a hand-sewn glove. A member of the distinguished faculty at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, her knowledge of the Russian style in encyclopedic. Ms. Danchenko-Stern delivered her accompaniments as if she were leading an entire orchestra, bringing out a myriad of instrumental sonorities. If only all pianists could accompany in this manner, the music would really come alive. She obviously lifted the soloists onto a higher plain of performance. Vera also deserves special laurels for her imaginative programming and discerning taste in the engagement of first class artists of international caliber. She has developed an enormous following and her concerts are always sold out. I seldom attend concert recitals that are this satisfying. Just being a member of the audience made me feel special. I extend many bravos to all involved in this Fairy Tale performance of magic and wonder!