GHCD 2250/51/52/53 – GEORGI VINOGRADOV – Arias, Duets, Songs
FANFARE JUNE/JULY 2004
It’s difficult to describe to current fans of opera the state of singing that prevails in a truly opera-mad culture during its most productive years. For example, we’re used to three or four international tenors in all the leading houses trading off responsibilities for everything in the main repertoire, regardless of a given work’s style and language of origin. The idea of a single nation possessing a dozen world-class tenors at the one and same time seems to us inconceivable—yet such a condition has prevailed at various times and in various places; most recently, in the Soviet Union during the 1950s.
It was a period of fortunate confluence. The old guard, singers who had been on the scene since the 1920s (Lemeshev, Kozlovsky, etc.) were still singing strongly; some would argue, better than ever, and setting a standard for future generations. Younger singers were gaining attention by providing similar virtues of effortless production, beauty of tone, and attention to line. Even if we eliminate fine artists such as Dobrin or Yelnikov from this list as essentially secondary character performers (and Jadan, who left the Soviet in the 1940s), that still leaves Lemeshev, Kozlovsky, Orfenov, Ivanovsky, Ognovoi, Kromchenko, Nelepp, Vinogradov, Makhov, Khanaev, Maslennikov, and Alexandrovitch—each of them arguably of international caliber and featured in many Soviet recordings of the period.
Georgi Vinogradov (1908–1980) was not the least famous name at that time. Like Joseph Schmidt and Zara Dolukhanova, he was essentially a radio singer. He made his first recordings in 1938, and continued through the mid 1950s. After that, for nearly two decades, nothing; the large discography comprising operatic excerpts, classical song cycles, Russian romances, folk and popular tunes simply ceased to grow except as reissues. Rumors have circulated for years about a drunken brawl with a Polish officer that embarrassed the Soviet hierarchy, but they make no sense and have never been substantiated. According to official Soviet sources, Vinogradov made concert appearances in the latter part of his life and passed on his knowledge to a new generation of singers—whether through individual teaching, master classes, or example, we’re not told.
Whatever the reason for the sudden cessation of his recordings and radio work, we’re left with a great deal of fine material. Vinogradov was emphatically not “much overlooked by the recording industry,” as Robert Caniell’s notes would have it on this album, in favor of Lemeshev and Kozlovsky. He was not as well-represented on record as Lemeshev or Kozlovsky, but both of those stars had careers that were 15 years going and strong when Vinogradov’s started. They also gave frequent concert performances and national tours individually, with local opera companies in many of the satellite republics and with the Bolshoi, while Vinogradov did no touring during his recording career and never joined an opera company. Lemeshev and Kozlovsky were national stars, while Vinogradov’s popularity was primarily regional and Russian. But Vinogradov recorded frequently and left an impressive legacy for later generations to evaluate. While not complete, this set represents a large and representative compilation of material drawn from the artist’s entire recording career. Much of it is rare. All of it is welcome, since Vinogradov has been poorly represented on audio discs since the collapse of the Soviet.
Vinogradov’s voice was exceptional. It lacked the ringing virility and emotional range of Lemeshev and later, Maslennikov, but it was a lyric tenor of pure, poetic beauty, unmatched by any of his Soviet competitors in this regard save Ognevoi and Orfenov; and Ogenvoi deteriorated early, while Orfenov’s voice become hard and unattractive at louder volume levels. The emission was dead-on, the tone sitting squarely on the breath without ever a hint of effort. Like Björling, he was capable of giving the impression that singing was remarkably easy; everything in this album testifies to that. There is nothing strenuous or forced. Had Vinogradov pursued a touring career before live audiences, he might have been expected to evince impaired health and vocal problems from time to time, but the image he left on records is completely unspoiled by this reality. He gives us a kind of perfection, in an intimate, melancholy sphere, that remains etched on memory forever, as much as Lisitsian’s gleaming baritone or Kozlovsky’s extraordinary interpretative depth.
Like Schipa, Vinogradov’s diction and phrasing were flawless. He also had Schipa’s ability to take seeming trifles and, by treating them with all his art, turn them into artistic miniatures at no expense to their immediacy and charm. Solovyev-Sedoy’s Golden Lights, a folk-like piece with accordion accompaniment, is such a trifle: simple and repetitive in structure, the pathos of its minor-key melody enhanced by brief major-key episodes—in other words, a typically haunting Russian tune, not unlike the ever-popular Moscow Nights that was once adopted as an unofficial anthem by Radio Moscow. (It was also composed by Solovyev-Sedoy.) Vinogradov doesn’t oversize the piece, foregoing operatic heroics, and limns its melody simply and effectively. His second verse is slightly more fierce at first, in keeping with the words, but he never strays from the notes. Somewhere along the way, thanks to his excellent diction, softly lyric voice, evident sincerity, and chaste musicality, Golden Lights achieves a memorability that entirely swamps its musical worth. So much else on this album shares a similar quality, whether it’s the guitar-accompanied romances of Piotr Bulakhov or that traditional Russian gypsy favorite, Black Eyes. Many fine artists leave a great impression of themselves on the more ephemeral material they perform, but Vinogradov has a way of bringing out a luster in all he sings without imposing a large personality on the music.
Curiously enough, the tenor had admirable facility with coloratura, despite the fact that few of his recordings allow us to hear and evaluate this facet of his art. Both the Rossini selections from Il barbiere di Siviglia demonstrate it, however, along with a fluency that few of his international contemporaries possessed. For all we know, he may have also been adept at singing the more exuberant folk tunes meted out to lyric tenors, but these, too, were generally not recorded, presumably because the coloration of his sound, his persuasive use of mixed voice, and the intimacy of his manner suggested the poetic or despondent character of so much Russian music. The one example of extroverted singing that is included, Dargomyzhsky’s duet Vanka-tanka, is more successful for Andrei Ivanov’s broad contribution.
Mention of Il barbiere di Siviglia brings to mind the one defect I find in Vinogradov, an unusual one for a performer trained in the era of Soviet culture: an element of reticence, an unwillingness to use rubato, which is better suited to classical song than to opera. The tenor’s “Ecco ridente” is exquisitely phrased, but the aria moves staidly forward without any of that sense of ardent, almost improvised wooing which is so important to its character. Vinogradov’s “Elle ne croyait pas” (from Thomas’s Mignon) similarly just misses the mark; and the degree to which this occurs can be heard by comparing these two performances with Kozlovsky’s complete recording of Barbiere, and di Stefano’s live performance of Mignon recorded in 1949 in Mexico City. Sometimes, even in classical song, Vinogradov’s refusal to bend the line lends an air of impersonality to this most personable of artists. He had, seemingly, the perfect voice and talent for Schumann’s Der Nussbaum, for instance, but the recording itself is disappointing: too fleet, unyielding, and prosaic. Perhaps it was Vinogradov’s lack of experience in live performance that caused this; or maybe it was over-fastidiousness before the recording microphone. Whatever the cause, the results misfire.
But it is an infrequent flaw by any means in the work of Vinogradov, and the virtues of his art easily overwhelm it. His first act aria from Mussorgsky’s Sorochintsy Fair is without a regular tempo, hence a wonderful vehicle for Vinogradov to display his smoothly equalized tone, interpretative sensibilities, and command of dynamics. If “Faint Echo of My Youth” (Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin) falls short of Kozlovsky’s brilliantly conceived, egotistically introverted poet, it’s still wonderfully “inner” and beautifully sung; while his “Adieu, Mignon!” is ravishing in its combination of simplicity and tenderness. Ole’s Arioso (Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Ole the Norseman) has all the open yearning one could wish for, just the right degree of rubato, and a fine, lengthy diminuendo on the tenor’s final note.
The recordings themselves point to mixed origins. Most are presented without any apparent filtering, even to allowing the occasional repeating scratch from original 78 sources to occur without digital correction. A very few of the items, however, sound as though they were severely gate-filtered, with the usual unfortunate result in which passages of music and noise end over-abruptly whenever the singing comes to a temporary halt. No matrix numbers are presented. Recording dates are provided for some items, nothing for others, and date ranges (in one case, 1946–1953) for a third group. Where accompaniment can be identified, it’s listed; and all the artists that appear in duets with Vinogradov (Doluhkanova, Mikhailov, Andrei Ivanov, Barsova, etc.: a distinguished group) are given. In addition to the notes by Richard Caniell, there are also very lengthy and informative notes on both Vinogradov and much of the music by Larry Friedman.
All in all, this is an evident labor of love on behalf of one of the neglected greats of Soviet opera and song. There’s a great deal of fine material to enjoy here, and eminent reason to praise the album’s producers. Highly recommended.
Gramophone May 04
Songs and arias by various composers including Glinka O say, why did you come? How sweet to be with you. I am here, Inezilla Gounod Roméo et Juliette – Ange adorable Ippolitov-Ivanov Ole the Norseman – Ole’s Arioso Mussorgsky Sorochintsy Fair – Why, my sad heart? Rachmaninov Songs, Op 26 – No 5, Beloved, let us fly; No 12, The night is sad Rimsky-Korsakov Beauty, Op 51 No 4 Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia – Ecco ridente il cielo; Se il mio nome Rubinstein The Demon – On desire’s soft, fleeting wing. The Azra, Op 32 No 6. The sun is shining, Op 48 No 12 Schubert Die schöne Müllerin, D795 Schumann Meine Rose, Op 9 No 2. Der Nussbaum, Op 25 No 3. Mt Mythen und Rosen, Op 24 No 9 Taneyev How you caress, silvery night, Op 18 No 1 Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin – Faint echo of my youth. The mild stars shone for us, Op 60 No 12. For Children, Op 54 – No 3, The grass grows green; No 4, My little garden; No 9, The snow is already melting; No 10, Lullaby in a storm; No 13, Spring song. Romeo and Juliet – Duet
More of Russia’s musical history revealed by this compendium of a fine tenor’s art
For most of us, large areas of Russia and its history remain terra incognito, and this applies to singers as to much else. Syd Grays pioneering LP albums on his Rubini label and the monumental (and prize-winning) ‘Singers of Imperial Russia’ on Pearl helped to chart the early years, and by 1970 singers had begun to emerge through gaps cautiously opened in the iron curtain. But (roughly) from 1917 to ’67 is still misty, or known only in part.
This tenor, Georgi Vinogradov, for instance, came to notice outside the USSR only in a few anthologies; but then notice was taken, for his record of the solo from Sorochintsy Fair challenged comparison with the famous one by Dmitri Smirnov, and his account of Lenski’s ‘Kouda’ was clearly in the best and most authentic line. I don’t suppose many thought of him in Schubert and Schumann, or even in operas such as Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mignon, all of which are delightfully represented here. With these four CDs, there is now, in fact, a very nearly complete map of his career as a recording artist; and so a bit more of the Soviet Union in song comes into focus.
How important is it, and how good? Vinogradov was a light lyric tenor who recorded extensively from 1938 to the mid-’50s: but even here, in this reclaimed area, dates are in short supply. Kutsch and Riemens’ encyclopedia gives his dates as 1908-80 (I can’t see any reference to his death in the ample and well-produced booklet). No evidence seems to be forthcoming to show that he had a stage career at all, though he sang some principal lyric roles in opera on radio. Then, although there is general allusion to concert work, nothing very specific appears to be known. The usual reason for a concentration on radio and recording is either some sort of physical disability for the stage (no photograph seems to have been available) or a voice of very limited carrying-power which suits the microphone but not an opera house.
The second question (‘How good?’) can be answered more decisively. This is a voice of fine quality, exceptionally easy in the upper range (E to A), evenly produced, with admirable fluency and clean articulation. An apparently instinctive knowledge of when to use portamento, to join phrases, to quicken or slow the pulse, links him back with the bel canto singers of an earlier age; yet unlike some of these he had the taste and musicianship to sing Lieder with distinction (albeit in Russian). As with many of his predecessors, he often fulfils himself most endearingly in quite simple, popular music – and it is not a bad idea to get the flavour of his singing and a faithful sound-picture of his voice, by sampling first a few of the songs with guitar on the fourth disc. Some of the claims made on his behalf in the notes may be excessive: for instance, Lensky’s aria is indeed beautifully sung but expresses sadness of a sweet disposition without capturing the tension and pain of a young man who knows that he probably has less than an hour to live.
The set is nevertheless enriching and deserves all gratitude. The original material is of great rarity (and, incidentally, should be properly documented). Richard Caniell’s transfers, Larry Friedman’s notes and the inspiration of the dedicatee Donald Jackson, are all included in the debt which lovers of good recorded vocal art will be happy to acknowledge.
CLASSIC RECORD COLLECTOR Spring 2004
The tenor Georgi Vinogradov (b. Kazan, 1908 – d. Moscow, 1980) gets no entry in any of the recent Grove’s Dictionary opuses. This is symptomatic: his name is unknown to all but the most militant devotees of Russian singing. For myself, before embarking on this set I knew almost nothing of him – apart, that is, from having heard the single track in EMI’s fourth volume of The Record of Singing, and recalling those phrases of warm praise offered in description of his Lensky (by Alan Blyth) and Mignons Wilhelm Meister (by John Hughes) in volumes 1 and 3 respectively of Opera on Record (edited by Blyth). In the Lieder volume of Song on Record (also edited by Blyth), more praise for Vinogradov crops up, this time for his Schubert singing (in Russian translation). Even so, I was unprepared for the pleasures afforded by these discs – intense pleasures generously piled, and affording along the way more than one moment of the special frission that all true lovers of great singers and singing experience when making brand-new discoveries on the highest levels the art has to offer.
How is it possible for any singer of this caliber to have been (outside Russia) this unknown? The essayals in the Guild booklet, Richard Caniell (responsible for the ‘recreation and restoration’ of the original recordings) and Larry Friedman, outlines in as much detail as they have available, Vinogradov’s career. It seems to have taken a strange course, which does much to explain why and how he remained completely sealed off from any world reputation. After an early start in Moscow concerts in the 1930s he appears to have become pigeonholed as almost exclusively a Soviet radio performer, participating in occasional opera broadcasts – the source of the sizeable excerpts from Mignon that are among the jewels of this set – and generally, in Friedman’s words, singing ‘an extremely large repertoire, ranging from jazz to opera to art songs in those compositions often rather euphemistically called “Soviet Lyric Songs”‘.
These latter fill up disc 4; on Disc 2, alongside the Mignon items and those others, by turns fresh, delightful and exquisitely fashioned, from Rossini’s Barbiere, Millöcker’s Bettelstudent and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, there is a group of traditional Russian songs with the Red Army Chorus and Ensemble, with which he sang regularly in the years 1943-51. (After this period he seems to have disappeared almost entirely from public performance, for reasons that remain obscure.) Disc 1 features Russian opera and songs by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Glinka and others. Disc 3 is devoted to Lieder: three Schumann songs (but not Vinogradov’s Dichterliebe, since this has already been reissued by Preiser) and that complete Schone Müllerin praised in Song on Record.
What all four CDs add up to, whether in music ‘classical’ or ‘popular’, is a conspectus of wonderful lyric tenor singing: of notes of unfailingly fine quality spun into lines legato-sustained with aristocratic elegance, of words and phrases fastidiously shaped and directed, and, beyond that, graced with a gentle poetry that seems peculiarly Russian but that was jettisoned in later eras. In terms of tone-colour and-character Vinogradov puts me often in mind of Cesare Valletti, another lyric tenor of exceptional refinement, poetry and grace, and also exceptionally wide range; but whereas the Italian could on occasion produce somewhat dry, edgy sounds at the top of his compass, the Guild discs amply demonstrate that the Russian remained sweet and true in all registers. (The nearest he comes to being taxed is in the horrid, vocally strenuous duet adapted from Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet, sung with his sometime teacher, the fine Bolshoi soprano Valeria Barsova.)
For myself I find him more appealing, easier to love, than either of those much more famous 20th-century Russian tenor ‘names’ Kozlovsky and Lemenshev. Immediate points of comparison arise in the sample of Lensky which opens Disc 1 – the Act 2 solo – and which surely courts among the peak points of Onegin performance on record: it is a reading of incomparable nobility and poetic atmosphere, of fine-drawn tone expertly sustained. Another highlight immediately follows, the sparely accompanied solo from Act I of Mussorgsky’s Sorochintsï Fair (which Stravinsky must have had prominently in mind while composing the opening bassoon solo of The Rite of Spring); again, Georgi Vinogradov’s delicacies of colour and phrase-shaping take one’s breath away. In the popular and traditional repertory, in songs sad, nostalgic or high-spirited, an irresistible charm of personality is here revealed, sufficient to make magic of trifles; the Schumann-Schubert disc celebrates the power of his entirely unmannered command of the medium – he possessed, among other virtues, compelling ability as a story-teller – and in doing so mounts a strong argument for the now unfashionable art of Lieder-in-translation. All four discs, indeed, underline en passant the communicative benefits that accrue from singing in one’s native tongue.
Instead of running on in the same vein for paragraphs more, let me shower praise on everyone concerned with so loving and skillful a presentation: notable care has been taken over both transfers and documentation – and there is very little duplication of what is on the Preiser disc. This Vinogradov collection is a treasure trove.
MusicWeb Monday February 02 04
This set opens with a performance of Lensky’s aria from ‘Eugene Onegin’ which incarnates the melancholy poet perfectly. Vinogradov’s honeyed voice is one of the most beautiful tenor voices that I have come across. The singer uses his voice’s rather melancholy cast to illuminate the character of Lensky. And he manages to combine a wonderful sense of line with superb diction (in Russian), no mean feat. The flexibility of his phrasing is notable as is the evenness of his voice over the whole range. These superb characteristics carry over into all the other tracks on these discs. In many ways, each track is a vocal revelation.
After hearing his voice, my response was to wonder why I had not heard more of Vinogradov. Born in 1908 and living until 1980, you would expect that he would crop up on the many operas recorded during the Soviet period, but he does not. This 4 CD boxed set is a magisterial survey of his surviving recordings, but there are only four arias from Russian opera. In fact, Vinogradov never seems to have performed on stage and worked for Moscow Radio. Though he did perform a number of operas for them, the bulk of his recording career seems to have been involved with lighter items. Also, it is reported that shortly after the war Vinogradov got into a drunken brawl with some Polish officials and profoundly embarrassed the government so that he was effectively retired. Officially he kept singing until 1963, but there is no record of his activities and official records from the 1950s and 1960s virtually ignore him.
This collection endeavours to cover all aspects of Vinogradov’s art. Some of his recordings have become exceedingly rare indeed, so we must be grateful to Guild for issuing this comprehensive survey, especially as Richard Caniell has gone to much trouble to ensure that all items are played at the correct speed, thus correcting errors that were perpetrated in previous issues of some of the discs. The first disc covers Russian opera and song, the second Italian and French opera recorded in Russian, including the celebrated excerpts from Thomas’s ‘Mignon’. In fact, the entire set is recorded in Russian, something which is not entirely clear from a summary reading of the notes. The second disc is completed with a group of folk items. The third disc is lieder and the fourth Russian romances.
On the first disc, the quality of Vinogradov’s performances in the opera arias makes one long for more. Lensky’s aria is followed by a haunting performance of an aria from Mussorgsky’s ‘Sorochinsky Fair’ and an aria from Anton Rubinstein’s rarely heard ‘The Demon’. But the Russian songs are equally illuminating and Vinogradov’s performances of them are shapely, subtle and supple. The disc includes five items from Tchakovsky’s ‘Songs for Children’ which are not very well known in the west. A real curiosity on this disc is Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet duet, based on material from the Fantasy overture. This was left incomplete at his death and completed by S.I. Taneiev. Vinogradov sings with honeyed tones and fine ardour, but the soprano Valeria Vladimirovna Barsova does get rather shrill. Vinogradov himself is not perfect and his passage-work can be a little sketchy. On the second disc, though he acquits himself creditably in the Rossini items, he does not seem quite at home in the repertoire. The melancholy cast to his voice makes him seem more suitable as Romeo in the Gounod excerpt and especially as Wilhelm in the substantial excerpts from ‘Mignon’. Here Vinogradov sounds magical, but I am afraid that I ran up against a problem. Whilst welcoming recordings and performances in the language of the relevant listeners, I find that hearing Italian opera and German lieder performed in Russian limits the performances’ attractiveness. This is a purely personal matter, but one that potential buyers should bear in mind when considering this set.
The folk items on the second disc include a number with the Red Army Chorus and Ensemble. I was quite surprised by these items; for all their vigour and overt populism, they prove surprisingly subtle. The third disc is devoted to a complete performance of ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’. Recorded in 1954, it is one of the latest items on the disc and shows Vinogradov still at the height of his powers, bringing a good range of colour and subtlety to his performance, aided ably by the accompaniment of Georgi B. Orentlikher. The final disc is entirely devoted to what could be called lighter items. Throughout his career Vinogradov produced recordings of Romances, generally with guitar accompaniments. These melancholy, folk-like songs suit Vinogradov admirably and their haunting simplicity enables him to make the most of the poetically musical Russian language. None of the composers are well known, but artless simplicity of the songs combined with Vinogradov’s technique mean that the songs stay in the memory.
Guild have gone to a great deal of trouble to assemble the items for these discs and to ensure that the individual tracks are presented in the best way possible. Unfortunately this level of care does not seem to have been lavished on the notes. There are at least two places where the printed order of the tracks does not correspond to what is played on the CD. And, though the set comes with a fine set of notes, there are no words for any of the items. This is not disastrous for the more common pieces, but it would have been extremely helpful for some of the lesser known Russian items.
This boxed set will be of great interest to anyone seriously interested in Russian singing. But the quality of the Russian items, particularly, make them essential listening for anyone interested in opera or the voice. The limitations in Vinogradov’s recorded legacy mean that not everyone will relish the entire repertoire of these discs and I cannot help feeling that Guild should consider a single disc to showpiece Vinogradov’s undeservedly neglected talents.
MusicWeb Monday January 12 03
The name of Georgi Vinogradov (1908-1964) is not one that will ‘grab’ the passing browser, or even the opera buff. Nonetheless, his recordings on 78s and LPs command a hefty price in the market place and vocal cognoscenti eagerly seek copies in good condition. But, is the scarcity of recorded material of this singer, at least outside Russia, allied to his vocal qualities, enough to justify a 4CD set? Certainly Richard Caniell, guiding light of Guild’s ‘Historical Series’ thinks so, and in the usual detailed booklet makes a convincing argument, including an account of his own introduction to the singer’s art.
Vinogradov’s singing is an art in the best sense. His voice is that of a very light lyric tenor which might be better described as ‘tenore di grazia’, but with a touch, a very slight touch, of metal softened with honey. Heft doesn’t come into it, as the singer never sang on the operatic stage so his voice never needed to fill a theatre. All his recordings derive from radio broadcasts often with piano or guitar accompaniment. These recording conditions make it impossible to make comments about the size of Vinogradov’s voice. The lighter accompaniments do allow the singer to exhibit the full range of his soft singing from a honeyed chest register, evenly through the passaggio into an ethereal head tone. This is often supported, on the breath, by a thread of tone. These qualities are heard throughout but particularly in the Russian songs on CD 4, albeit that many are not particularly demanding or of great musical interest. However, in the greater vocal and interpretive demands of Glinka and Tchaikovsky on CD1 the listener can really begin to hear what the enthusiasts rave about. In the poetic expressive imperatives of Die Schöne Müllerin, (CD 2. trs. 4-23) the use of Russian inhibited my enjoyment of his interpretation, although I was able to sense, through the quality of the vocal nuance and variation of inflection and tone, something of what the singer was striving to convey.
The extracts from ‘Mignon’ (CD 2. trs.5-11, recorded for a radio broadcast in 1947) allow the best opportunity for analysis of the singer although his ‘Elle ne croyant’ (tr.9) is in a different acoustic, a point explained by Caniell on p.32 of the booklet. In these extracts, even more than in the songs, I can hear why enthusiasts breathe Vinogradov’s name alongside the likes of Schipa, Gigli, Thill and the young Björling. Even in Russian Vinogradov is able to express the sense of the aria and the character.
The sound on these discs is generally good. Whilst there are some admittedly noisy surfaces particularly on some of the songs on CD 1 this limitation didn’t inhibit my own voyage of discovery or enjoyment. It is that last word that it is important to stress, for this singing is highly enjoyable. The voice has those qualities exhibited by the greatest of singers: individuality and character. Has it enough to hold the listener through 4 CDs? The buyer must decide. For me I would have preferred a 2 CD introduction to the considerable vocal qualities of a singer known to far too few people. However, given the modest cost, vocal enthusiasts in particular will welcome the availability, for the first time on CD, of so much of Vinogradov’s recorded legacy.Robert J Farr
Classics Today 30.11.03
About Vinogradov’s recorded performance of Lensky’s aria, this set’s annotator, Larry Friedman, writes, “Has it ever been done more poetically, more stylishly and with such beauty of tone? His voice arches and falls, sighs, murmurs and calls out, bringing the young Lensky to life as no one else has.” Well, our first instinct is to presume we’re dealing with a vaguely deranged fan. But in fact, he’s right: the voice we hear, from a 1945 recording (the 93 selections included in this nearly five hours of music were recorded between 1938 and 1954), is meltingly beautiful, naturally produced, plangent and plaintive without ever being sloppy or maudlin or resorting to any non-musical means. The tenor gives attention to the text as if he were living the thoughts for the first time, but without any emphasis not suggested by the composer or the notes. Vinogradov never sang opera on a stage; after World War II he took part in some radio broadcasts. He had a penchant for Russian popular song, and there’s plenty of that here (certainly more than anyone needs), and indeed everything on these four discs is sung in Russian, including Die schöne Müllerin.
In brief, Vinogradov is just gorgeous in the excerpts from Mignon–perhaps the most lyrical expressions of this music ever recorded (it’s almost a half-hour of highlights, with other Russian singers); he has no trouble with Almaviva’s coloratura in “Ecco ridente in cielo” (although he certainly lacks joy); and in a duet from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette (with a forgettable Valeria Vladimirovna Barsova) he’s ravishing. The Die schöne Müllerin is weird, and it’s not just the language–Vinogradov seems thoroughly disconnected until about the fifth song. Rachmaninov’s “The night is sad” is touching and atmospheric, as are all of the feel-bad-about-the-universe Russian art songs.