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Folksongs and Romances

Harman Center for the Arts
03/03/2010 -  
Russian Folk Songs: Meadow Song (arr. A. Vasilenko) – Wedding Song (arr. M. Matveev)
Alexander Alyab’ev: The Nightingale
Alexander Gurilev: Maiden’s Dress
Sergei Rachmaninoff: The Lilacs – It is beautiful here
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Iolanta’s Arioso – It was in the early Spring – Pimpinella
Alexander Varlamov: Do not wake her up at dawn
George Gershwin/Irina Mozyleva: Russian Emigrant Song (By Strauss)

Irina Mozyleva (Soprano), Vera Danchenko-Stern (Pianist)

V. Danchenko-Stern, I. Mozyleva (© Micaele Sparacino)

The Shakespeare Theater Company at The Harman Center for the Performing Arts has for the last two years sponsored a mid-week, noontime concert series entitled Happenings at the Harman. Featuring performances by Washington-area artists, the series endeavors to connect community audiences with today’s leading artists. The series also explores the synergy between performances on Washington’s stages and the events that shape the DC community and the world. Modern Dance Ensembles, Ballet Companies, Bach Consorts, Jazz Ensembles, Choruses, Films, Pianists, Instrumentalists, Opera Singers, Brass Ensembles, Japanese Koto Ensembles, etcetera, etcetera, have all been included in the programming. Happenings at the Harman has become a very popular, distinguished, and acclaimed series. This recital, featuring artists of the Russian Chamber Arts Society, celebrated its 100th presentation.

The lovely and limpid voiced Belarus Soprano Irina Mozyleva and the enormously gifted and stylistically informed pianist Vera Danchenko-Stern illuminated in this recital the influences of folk songs upon the composition of arias and romances by 19th century Russian composers. The very first piece on the program, a tune entitled Meadow Song made an immediate link to the usage of folk songs in the music of Tchaikovsky. In fact one of the tunes in this quaint little air was used as a major motif in his Fourth Symphony. Tchaikovsky’s delightful Pimpinella, which was recorded by Enrico Caruso in Italian, might have been penned by Donizetti. Its exhilarating waltz rhythm is typical of many Neapolitan songs.
Even the first act aria of Iolanta, if taken out of context of the opera, and the main theme sung without accompaniment, might be mistaken for a folk song. The Rachmaninoff songs likewise embody rather simple little airs ennobled by sophisticated and imaginative piano accompaniments. Frequently with Tchaikovsky, and always with Rachmaninoff, it is the piano in fact that has the final say. After the floated high B flat of Zdes Horosho (It is lovely here) the piano continues for several measures to develop the theme and bring closure to the song.

With Russian romances in general, and specifically in the songs of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, one must think of the pianist not merely as an accompanist, but rather as a joint collaborator. Unlike the lieder of Franz Schubert, the piano parts of these songs are more often than not, extremely bravura and virtuosic. They demand a big keyboard technique and require voices of extended range and abilities. Ms. Mozyleva and Ms. Danchenko-Stern have all of the requisites to admirably meet these demands. It was a joy to hear them and watch their interplay as the music constantly called for “dovetailing” between the two. The Duo concluded their performance with a rousing rendition of the virtuoso coloratura showpiece The Nightingale by Alyab’ev, which has been recorded by both Rosa Ponselle and Edita Gruberova. This aria particularly displayed their considerable talents to the fullest. The audience, which included such notables as Vladimir Tolstoy (grandson of Leo Tolstoy), applauded them most enthusiastically. Ms. Mozyleva further regaled us in an encore with her adaptation of the George and Ira Gershwin song By Strauss. She inserted her own hilarious lyrics and renamed it as Song of the Russian Emigrant. It was a charming ending to a beautiful and entertaining recital.

Happenings at The Harman

Micaele Sparacino



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