Regardless of one’s admiration for Mariusz Kwiecien´’s singing on this disc, the programming fills a valuable niche: the smartly chosen and sequenced arias by Tchaikovsky, Dvo∑ák, Moniuszko and Szymanowski give each other needed context, particularly in the more exotic corners of the Slavic repertoire. The two Onegin scenes stand like bookends, giving a point of reference for the lesser known composers as well as great scenes by others that aren’t fully appreciated in the long haul of a complete stage performance. Though Rachmaninov’s Aleko is an uneven work, you’d never know it from the title-character’s compelling soliloquy and cavatina, aided particularly by Borowicz’s knowing treatment of the orchestration. The disc ends with the King Roger scene that embodies much that came before it, transmuted into its own Richard Strauss-era harmonic language. The typically meticulous packaging assures that full texts and good translations are provided.
Invariably, Kwiecien´ gives vocally solid, passionate accounts of the music. His well-focused (if not exceptionally glamourous) baritone gives a luxuriously clean sense of line to scenes from Mazeppa and Prince Igor that are usually sung by more commanding but woolier Russian bass-baritones. Kwiecien´’s Onegin is particularly nuanced.
Elsewhere in the Russian repertoire, comparisons with the casts in some of the Gergiev/Kirov recordings show Kwiecien´’s clean vocalism isn’t always preferable to the interpretative depths of, say, Nikolai Putilin in Mazeppa. Also, one can’t be surprised when a certain number of the performances in any recital disc are less studied and fall into generic operatic postures. Kwiecien´ only does so in his native tongue, as in his monochromatic excerpt from Halka. Perhaps that music gave him less to discover?