This album is dedicated to the music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff performed by the outstanding singer Elena Obraztsova.
The music of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, the singer’s favourite composers, accompanied her throughout her artistic life. Elena Obraztsova always had Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninoff’s romances in the programmes of her performances across the world since her first recital at the Small Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic Society in the spring of 1965.
Elena Obraztsova studied the works of composers and sought after the right intonation when she was a student of conservatory and afterwards when she collaborated with her first concertmaster Alexander Yerokhin. The monographic programmes of the famous philharmonic cycle “Russian Romance” where Obraztsova and Yerokhin presented an anthology of Russian chamber vocal music were big events of the musical life in the mid-1970s. In February 1972, Elena Obraztsova performed a concert fully dedicated to Rachmaninoff, and in November 1973, she gave a Tchaikovsky recital.
“It was extremely interesting to listen to Elena Obraztsova’s two monographic recitals dedicated to the music of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff”, a reviewer wrote in Muzykalnaya zhizn magazine. “Interesting and indicative. As you listen to the singer, you clearly realize how different her approach to the “emotional core” of the composers’ music is. She takes it as two worlds, two lifes”.
In an interview after her triumph at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970, Elena Obraztsova made a startling confession: “I couldn’t handle Tchaikovsky properly for a long time until I realized that Tchaikovsky was a sort of composer-philosopher, who wrote about the past, about things he had experienced and gone through, his music is a philosophy of life not a momentary emotional experience”.
In 1978, already together with concertmaster Vazha Chachava, Obraztsova recorded twelve Tchaikovsky’s romances on Firma Melodiya. The album was awarded the gold record, and ten years later the label released the singer’s recital that took place on 21 February 1986 at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. It was the first time when Rachmaninoff’s romances were featured on the singer’s record.
“Some lovers of music still believe that chamber singing as opposed to operatic doesn’t take openness of emotions and a strong ardent feeling, and a singer performing in the chamber repertoire must keep the power of his/her voice down and think about piano and mezzo-voce rather than forte”, wrote musicologist Vsevolod Timokhin in the article concerned with the release.
Elena Obraztsova never shared this point of view: “Artistic problems emerging before performers should be solved proceeding from a composer’s concept reflected in the musical notation. Whenever I see three fortes in the musical notation, I follow this guidance rigorously, and my three fortes in a concert house won’t sound any quieter and more “chamber” than those at the opera”.
Indeed, in terms scale and emotional contrasts, many of the singer’s chamber renditions are not inferior to her creations on the operatic stage.
The “romantic nerve” of Elena Obraztsova’s art is particularly apparent in her renditions of Rachmaninoff’s romances. Poetic reverie, lyrical serenity and dramatic passion captured in the composer’s music find a fervent and deep echo in the singer.
“The persona’s feelings in Rachmaninoff’s romances have always been exceptionally captivating”, the singer admitted. “They are something that the character is seized with at this very moment – his soul, his heart is filled with them, and they must be immediately expressed with complete sincerity and power of feeling”.
A different emotional sphere is realized by Elena Obraztsova in Tchaikovsky’s romances. It’s a world of feelings already experienced. Although the hero’s soul is not at all always calm and pacified, and flashes and echoes of former passions still shake it, this is about the past, about the “days gone by”. These are infinitely cherished memories, sweet and bitter ones, but these are memories not the hero’s current emotional experience as it is the case in the singer’s Rachmaninoff renditions.
This disc includes ten Tchaikovsky’s romances and ten Rachmaninoff’s ones. The recordings made at Elena Obraztsova’s concerts at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in the 1970s and 1980s afford us an opportunity to hear interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninoff’s lyric romances by the singer made in different periods of her career with concertmasters Alexander Yerokhin and Vazha Chachava.
Seven of Rachmaninoff’s romances recorded on 21 February 1986 with Chachava have never been previously re-released. The recordings of Elena Obraztsova’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninoff’s romances together with Yerokhin see the light of day for the first time.
Also, the singer’s discography features for the first time two movements from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s sacred works Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (Op. 12, No. 2) and All-Night Vigil (Op. 37, No. 2) performed at the concert of the Moscow Chamber Choir conducted by Vladimir Minin on 28 December 1980.
Compiled by L. Leontieva
Adapted from V. Timokhin’s article on the release of “Romances of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff”, VTPO Firma Melodiya, 1989,
and the feature “Elena Obraztsova: A Creative Portrait” from the series “Masters of Performing Art”, Muzyka Publishers, 1979