MARIUSZ KWIECIEŃ Slavic Heroes
DVOŘÁK The Cunning Peasant – Prince’s aria: Who can express in words
MONIUSZKO Halka – Janusz’s aria: As sure as the wind sighs;
The Haunted Manor – Miecznik’s aria: Who of my maidens whose heart…;
The Word of a Nobleman – Come, let invigorating sun
RACHMANINOV Aleko – The camp is asleep
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sadko – Song of the Venetian guest
SMETANA The Devil’s Wall – Vok’s aria: The Devil’s Wall
SZYMANOWSKI King Roger – Final scene, hymn to Apollo
TCHAIKOVSKY Eugene Onegin – You wrote to me… Had I wished to be bound;
Can it be the same Tatyana?;
Iolanta – Robert’s aria: Who can compare with my Mathilde;
Mazeppa – Mazeppa’s arioso: Oh Maria, Maria!
Mariusz Kwiecień (baritone),
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Łukasz Borowicz.
Harmonia Mundi HMW 906101
Given that the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień is a major presence in opera on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s odd that he has
not been given a comparable profile on recordings, until now.
His first solo album allows him to apply his vocal and interpretative gifts to Polish, Czech and Russian operas from the second half of the 19th century, and one from the early 20th, Karol Szymanowski’s masterpiece, Krol Roger (‘King Roger’). While some of the selections – Eugene Onegin’s arias, for example, and the Borodin and Rachmaninov pieces – are likely to be familiar to most listeners, the bulk of this material is not. Indeed, this thoughtfully planned recital holds several welcome discoveries, and Kwiecień’s assured performances are an enticement unto themselves.
Russian opera is represented by just over half of the material. Along with Don Giovanni, Onegin is one of Kwiecień’s great signature roles. So deftly does he color his burnished voice to shape the long melodic phrases that both the anti-hero’s insensitive sermon to the love struck young Tatyana, and Onegin’s passionate declaration to her later in the opera, glow with emotional specificity. The lover Robert’s ardent apostrophe to his beloved Mathilde (from Tchaikovsky’s final opera, Iolanta) is another highlight, along with the cavatina from Aleko, Rachmaninov’s first work for the stage. Perhaps a darker Slavic timbre would have better suited the Russian prince’s longing for freedom and tender thoughts of his wife Yaroslavna (from Borodin’s Prince Igor), but again Kwiecień’s musicality and characterization is spot on.
King Roger has become another of the baritone’s calling-card roles,
and so palpable is the ecstatic feeling he brings to the Apollonian hymn that ends the opera that one must regret this musically through-composed opera does not lend itself very well to excerpting. (Kwiecień is scheduled to portray the troubled monarch next summer at the Santa Fe Opera.)
Three tuneful, well-made, quasi-Italianate arias from Moniuszko’s
The Haunted Manor (‘Straszny Dwór’), also his lesser-known Halka and The Word of a Nobleman (‘Verbum Nobile’), make one wonder why none of these works has traveled far beyond the Polish border.
Apart from passing traces of constriction on top, Kwiecień
delivers everything robustly and sensitively, and receives fine, idiomatic support from conductor Łukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. True, the 55-minute playing time left room to include several more Slavic rarities, but one must be grateful for what is included.