Rachmaninov devotees have long treasured the masterly survey of songs by the late Elisabeth Söderström, accompanied by Vladimir Askenazy, and the Chandos set from the early ‘90s that gave us the correct voice types. Some 20 years later this current set is a welcome release and a strong rival. 

Seven youngish Russian singers are heard here and all are fine artists and bring a great deal of Slavic intensity. Andrei Bondarenko’s rich baritone timbre caresses the ear and is superbly focused while Ekaterina Siurina’s bright forward tone is a delight and suits the lighter fare to a tee. Alexander Vinogradov, recently heard in a superb Shostakovich Babi Yar under Petrenko, has a sonorous instrument in the Russian bass tradition and does a fine job of vividly characterising those songs inspired by Rachmaninov’s friendship with Chaliapin.  

Daniil Shtoda who sung a fine Fenton on Abbado’s 2001 Falstaff sounds splendid if occasionally betraying a little wear and tear on the top of the voice. Justina Gringyte has a formidable dark mezzo sound that can tingle the spine. Rodion Pogossov and Evelina Dobraceva are both noticeably of the old school with occluded tone and some good old-fashioned Slavic wobble, however Dobraceva’s dramatic intensity compensates and at times she sounds remarkably like a young Vishnevskaya.  

Presiding over all is Iain Burnside whose subtle pianism underscores the poetic imagery, able to paint each backdrop with delicate washes or swathes of bold colour as the need arises. Gentle summer breezes and burbling streams are conveyed with a deft touch and while storms rage and breasts heave, he never makes an ugly sound. 

The songs are presented in published order and it is fascinating to hear Rachmaninov develop artistically from the Tchaikovsky clone to the mature artist, and to note how the buds of his true voice on the first disc open out on the following. It is a tantalising shame there is not a fourth disc as Rachmaninov abandoned the genre after he escaped the Revolution and one can only imagine what gems he might have polished in his later hyper-nostalgic style. 

Listening to the set one is struck by the consistency of the composer’s invention and wonders why so many of these songs are passed over in favour of a handful of favourites, but sadly these days real estate in song recitals is at a premium. Good documentation and stunningly realistic recording quality at a high transfer level.

Download this album from iTunes: Rachmaninoff: Songs – Iain Burnside