ANNA NETREBKO In the Still of Night
Anna Netrebko (soprano), Daniel Barenboim (piano).
Deutsche Grammophon Deluxe edition 477 8867; standard edition 477 8589
Recorded in performance at the Salzburg Festival in 2009, this collection of Russian songs documents is, incredibly enough, the first live recital of Anna Netrebko’s professional career. I found it something of a mixed bag. The repertoire is certainly appealing – 11 songs by Rimsky-Korsakov and nine by Tchaikovsky, only a few of them familiar. And the pianist Daniel Barenboim furnishes unfailingly musical and sensitive accompaniments, showing remarkable rapport with the singer while adding telling colorations and expressive accents to the vocal lines.
The wistful nymphs, disconsolate maidens and other figures depicted here inhabit a quintessentially Russian realm of deep melancholy. Netrebko does her best to avoid a certain monotonousness of mood and effect but does not always succeed. Part of the problem is that some of the nap has worn off her once-voluptuous tone. The more vigorously declamatory songs such as Rimsky’s Zvonche zhavoronka pen’ye (‘The lark’s song rings more clearly’) and Plenivshis’ rozoy, solovey (‘Captivated by the rose, the nightingale’), and Tchaikovsky’s Den’ li carit (‘Amidst the day’), betray a disconcertingly thin sound, suspect pitch, and what sounds like an incipient wobble. Generally more lyrical pieces, such as two Tchaikovsky lullabies (including the relatively well-known Serenada), fare more successfully and provide moments of gentle sweetness and serenity amid the prevailing gloom.
The Salzburg audience is rapturous in its reception of the artists, bursting into generous applause at the beginning, between song groups and, of course, at the end. Netrebko and Barenboim favor the festival throng with two encores, Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me (sung, nicely, in Czech) and Richard Strauss’s Cäcilie, in which the soprano’s gutsy Slavic manner seems misplaced.
DG’s 60-page, hardcover ‘Deluxe Edition’ packaging includes the song texts in four languages, two essays, an interview with Netrebko, and photos of the glamorous diva. (The illustrated booklet for the standard jewel-case release includes just one essay and no song texts.) I’d recommend this disc mainly to Netrebko fans.