★★★★☆/Joyce DiDonato: Eden (Erato)
★★★★★ Asmik Grigorian: Rachmaninov (Alpha)
The American mezzo-soprano is touring a program of works that are designed to reconnect humanity to nature. On this evidence, her voice has darkened in the COVID absence, acquiring a warming reassurance and companionable presence. This is singing as a form of mildly polemical conversation, from her to us.
Her selection, accompanied by Il Pomo D’Oro ensemble with Maxim Emelyanchev, is colourfully varied, from a Baroque aria by Marini to an aubade by the film composer Rachel Portman. I am slightly confused by the presence of Mahler and Wagner, but they add to the richness of the recipe, and I would not have quibbled about them at all had this fine record not been followed by the most concentrated song recital that has come my way in a decade or more.
Asmik Grigorian is a Lithuanian of Armenian parentage who commands the most dramatic roles in world opera, from Salome to Jenufa. On stage, she is electrifying. This is her first recital record, and I wondered if she could deliver the same degree of ferocity and beauty. It does not take long to find that she is an irresistibly intuitive and evocative interpreter of Russian song. A world apart from wobbly recitalists of a past generation, she slices through each note with pathological precision, encasing each syllable in a wonderment all its own.
These are mostly love songs, and Rachmaninov is not big on love, but Grigorian mines the songs for drama and pathos in a way only the greatest of opera singers do. If you can stay dry-eyed through the fourth track, “Oh, do not grieve”, you probably left your heart on the bus stop on the way to work. I would use it as a screensaver if only it were not so intimately disturbing.
The Russian-Lithuanian pianist Lukas Geniusas is a challenging partner who keeps the singer on the cusp of constant surprise and evolution. The recording was made ten months ago in Paris. This is, simply put, a world-class recital of a calibre we hear all too rarely in these troubled times.
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