Russian Song from Daniil Shtoda and Larissa Gergieva at the Wigmore Hall

Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, Rachmaninov, and Tchaikovsky: Daniil Shtoda (tenor), Larissa Gergieva (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 10.6.2011 (MB)

Rimsky-KorsakovThe octave, op.45 no.3

The nymph , op.56 no.1

The clouds begin to scatter – op.42 no.3

Cui Desire, op.57 no.25

The lilacs , op.54 no.5

The fountain statue at Tsarskoye Selo , op.57 no.17

The burnt letter , op.33 no.4

RachmaninovBeloved, let us fly, op.26 no.5

It cannot be , op.34 no.7

Sing not to me, beautiful maiden , op.4 no.4

Believe me not, Friend , op.14 no.7

Tchaikovsky Prayer at Bedtime, op.27 no.1

Again as before, I am alone , op.73 no.6

The nightingale , op.60 no.4

Why? Op.28 no.3

Serenade , op.63 no.6

The fearful moment , op.28 no.6

In the midst of the ball , op.38 no.3

It was in early spring , op.38 no.2

This was an excellent recital. Perhaps it may not have boasted the most varied of programmes, but then it is not so often that we, at least in London, are offered a recital of Russian song. Even Tchaikovsky therefore becomes a relative novelty, however ubiquitous a few works of his may be in the offerings presented by symphony orchestras. Daniil Shtoda is clearly a tenor of distinction, never once straining his voice, nor indeed sounding any less than beautiful, nor obscuring the words. Larissa Gergieva’s performance belonged to a Russian school one might have thought dead; more than once, I was put in mind of Tatiana Nikolayeva. One might not necessarily want to hear such an approach in Mozart, though it might actually prove rather interesting; in repertoire such as this, however, vocal and pianistic contributions had a straightforward sense of rightness.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s three songs presented a chiselled classicism, characteristic of some of his later work. From the outset, Shtoda displayed – though ‘display’ arguably gives a false impression – fine clarity of line and diction. Unobtrusive command of line continued into The Nymph. We found ourselves treated, moreover, to a notably beautiful head voice, whilst Gergieva captured with unerring rightness Rimsky’s aquatic rhythms and harmonies. The pictorial element was again to the fore in The clouds begin to scatter; I almost fancied that I could see the clouds do just that. César Cui’s selection offered, in its opening Desire, greater proximity to the operatic aria. ‘Soulful’ may be an overused word, but that and ‘ardour’ nevertheless seem mots justes when describing Shtoda’s performance. Pain of loss shone through without unnecessary underlining in The lilacs. Neither for the first nor the last time, I reflected, during The statue at Tsarskaya Selo, that Shtoda was able to present a song as if in a single breath. The burnt letter emerged as a miniature scena; if hardly Eugene Onegin, we were nevertheless treated to a beautifully shaded response to the Pushkin text.

Rachmaninov’s songs brought an intensification of the overtly dramatic, Gergieva showing, as if one might have doubted it, that no music is more obviously written for the modern Steinway than that of Rachmaninov. The piano figuration of Do not believe me, friend, proved utterly characteristic, not least in its backward glances to Liszt. This was a performance of splendid resonance, both vocally and instrumentally. Oh never sing to me again tempted one to think it a true heir to Onegin, perhaps to Lensky; certain harmonies underscored, as it were, the correspondence. Tchaikovsky’s own Serenade would continue such a train of thought, though here we sometimes seemed closer to the world of M. Triquet. Indeed, all the Tchaikovsky songs received equally fine performances, length of breath again especially notable, enabling well-judged shaping of climaxes, such as that to Again, as before, I am alone. In the midst of the ball sounded just like its title; an impression was given of a slightly sinister dance in the background, without detracting from the night and dreams that are the foreground material of the poem.

Mark Berry