MUSSORGSKY Songs and Romances
Men – particularly basses and baritones – tend to have a monopoly on Mussorgsky’s songs, so it’s welcome to see soprano Katherine Broderick attempting to break the stranglehold. Leaving aside the cycle The Nursery (which has been recorded by several female singers, including Elisabeth Söderström), she opens with a collection of eight songs, before two great cycles: the brooding, introverted Sunless, followed by the Songs and Dances of Death.
Broderick’s soprano has Wagnerian power but she controls it well to produce gorgeous pianos. ‘Desire’ and ‘Hebrew Song’ find her scaling down her voice beautifully, while ‘Where are you, little star?’ finds her caressing the vocal line tenderly. She can do wit too, and ‘Gathering Mushrooms’ is full of the sort of peasant characterisation you’d find in Boris Godunov. Sunless is a difficult cycle to bring off, full of resignation, but Broderick colours her voice enough to offer contrast. She is aided by Sergey Rybin’s shimmering accompaniments, adding luminosity to these flickering scores.
Galina Vishnevskaya recorded the Song and Dances of Death in Shostakovich’s orchestration (EMI, 2/78). I’d love to hear Broderick do the same – she has all Vishnevskaya’s decibels but without the excess vibrato. There is inexorable power in the finale to ‘Serenade’, a hypnotic ‘Trepak’ and a no-holds-barred ‘Field-Marshal’ you wouldn’t want to mess with. She lacks the extrovert characterisation of Boris Christoff (EMI, 8/89), from his cooing ‘Lullaby’ to his roaring ‘Field-Marshal’, but then Christoff is in a league of his own when it comes to Mussorgsky songs. Broderick’s is a supremely accomplished account.
Recorded in the warm acoustic of Oxford’s St John the Evangelist Church, this is a most enjoyable recital. Praise too for Rybin’s excellent booklet essay and the inclusion of texts and translations.