mon 15/07/2024

Olga Borodina, Dmitri Yefimov, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Olga Borodina, Dmitri Yefimov, Barbican Hall

Olga Borodina, Dmitri Yefimov, Barbican Hall

One of the world's classiest mezzos leaves us in no doubt about the essence of Russian song

Olga Borodina: never a moment's doubt over meaning and expressionNicola Fee-Bahl Management

In Italian opera, where lustrous Verdi mezzos are rare indeed, Olga Borodina tends to a first-the-music-then-the-words approach. In Russian song, the sole focus of last night's Barbican recital until the second encore, her classy, naturally inflected and beautifully coloured realisation of great as well as more generic native poets leaves you in no doubt what you're supposed to feel and think.

That was true from the first phrase in the first Rimsky-Korsakov song, the ground well prepared by spacious thirds from her immaculate if - perhaps understandably - slightly obeisant pianist Dmitri Yefimov. That dark voice in a thousand, capable of the kind of fruity lower register unique to Russians, is still supremely malleable despite a bit of wear and tear over the years (not surprising given the heavy repertoire she favours).

Borodina clearly wanted, for most of the 19th-century first half, to play the Spring Beauty who so lusciously presides over Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Snow Maiden. There was a fleeting glimpse of the more conventional suicidal suffering loner whom your average Russian romants tends to prefer in César Cui's "Desire", but interestingly so; the least original of the so-called "mighty little handful" of nationally inclined composers excelled in song, even if Musorgsky and Borodin in turn surpassed him.

In fact the Musorgsky specimen we heard, "Night", sat well within the love conventions of the companions Borodina chose for him. It was Borodin's "The Sea Princess", with harmonies that would no doubt have struck the young Ravel, who shone the brightest. Borodina didn't have to work too hard here - she was already decked out in a sequinned number that turned her into a unique kind of pleasingly plumptious mermaid - but she did slip so easily into the character of the siren's every so slightly remote allure. And the rivulets that flowed through the earlier part of the programme, most elliptically in Cui's magical little setting of Pushkin's "A Statue at Tsarskoye Selo", suited Yefimov's limpid reticence best.

Essentially conservative, Georgy Sviridov's songs have a sense of rightness as natural as Borodina's own delivery

It looked from the more robust of the Balakirev songs as if he might be found a little wanting in Shostakovich's superb late foray into what Russians like to call "serious-light music", his Spanish Songs, but Borodina leaned in close to show us that the diva, at least, wanted equality. And together they tuned the diverse strains of the Iberian round dances with delicious freedom.

Borodina's miraculous preservation of easy ornamentation in the still-supple voice worked wonders on "Farewell, Granada!" and nicely stretched to the two encore snapshots of Spain - one more by another Russian, Minkov's "Paysazh", a big number generously given at that late stage, and one very genuine and refined, Falla's "Lullaby" (even if only the word "mañana" could be elicited from Borodina's version of Spanish).

The apt climax of the evening, though, was her admirable decision to end officially with four songs by Georgy Sviridov, a late-20th-century follower in a tradition who conveys an epic sense of native tradition with very few discords; admittedly, Esenin's flying geese of "Russia Cast Adrift" get the chord-cluster treatment. Essentially conservative stuff, then, but Sviridov still has but a sense of rightness as natural as Borodina's own delivery.

No doubt about it, this woman holds on magisterially to her title as Russian queen mezzo. And with Dmitri Hvorostovsky - another phenomenal voice who's done Sviridov proud - to follow this one in the Barbican's Great Performers series, the state visit can only be prolonged.


David, your reference to Hvorostovsky/ Kissin is 3 years too late. their recital was in October 2008. Dmitri is singing Faure, Taneyev, Liszt and Tchaikovsky (no Rachmaninov this time) on 21 October.

Duly corrected. Unfortunate that the old recital comes up first in any search, still in Barbican 'what's on' format. I should have looked again at the date.

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