Ural Philharmonic Orchestra
Dmitry Liss, conductor
Soprano Olga Peretyatko’s album Russia Light seems the demonstration of what a trained but not exceptional voice achieves thanks to application rather than the succesful outcome of a distinguished primadonna, so that, if on the one hand care cannot be considered a negative aspect, on the other it is not enough to allow to find here the excellence that is usually expected (and weights on) a singer performing music of her or his country.
Russian Light is Peretyatko’s fourth solo recording, following two dedicated to Western music (in particular from the Italian, French and German repertoires) and a monograph on Rossini. After her “wandering” through Europe, she finally comes back to her native Russia with a really nice programme of arias by five great Russian composer: Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and of course the “father of Russian music”, Glinka. Some of the pieces are quite known in the West and few of them are really famous, as the celebrated Vocalise by Rachmaninov, but none of them is completely unknown as I think (and hope) that each of them have been heard by a Western listener at least once, even in the version for other female or male voices, in the case of chamber arias. This is a very good choice on Peretyatko’s side because it allows an easier approach for those who do not know Russian language and – for those who know it – Russian Light offers several of the most beautiful arias written by the aforementioned composers.
This said, Peretyatko’s voice has its limits and it is impossible to ignore them despite her efforts and the beauty of music. First of all, her timbre is not the most sympathetic and it always gives the impression of coldness, even in her middle register, which is her strong point. Her high notes are shrill, something that makes rather annoying Rimsky-Korsakov’s aria from The Snow Maiden and the vocalise opening Stravinsky’s Nightingale’s Song, while her low register is rather weak. Anyway, she manages to overcome her flaws, is skilled in agility and, from time to time, is able to impress with a nice characterization of the role, as it happens with Ludmila. Peretyatko’s singing of the opening line Grustno mne, roditel’ dorogoy! (“I am sad, my dear father”) is pleasing as in that “roditel’ dorogoy” (“dear father”), she portrays a joyful and amusing Ludmila, immediately revealing the happiness of a new bride despite her sorrow to leave her father.
I used this example because it was the clearest one, as this line is also the title of the aria, but there are other moments of this kind, as in Marfa’s aria from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride or in Sadko where, at the beginning, Peretyatko suggests a dreamy, even magical, atmosphere.
The problem is that these are “moments” and that remain such. Peretyatko seems usually more worried about singing the right note rather than developing the character, the situation or the feeling. What often prevails is self-congratulation, a condition that damages the entire album as it repeats itself over and over again and at last gives the impression to slow down the time. Boredom sometimes is unavoidable. In this way, a piece as Rachmaninov’s Vocalise loses its power of suggestion and its colours, becoming a mere exercise. Even Ludmila’s aria, despite some fine accents as the one described before, is not as charming as it usually is and also Shostakovich’s Ya v shkolu kogda-to khodila from Moscow, Cheryomushki seems affected rather than spontaneous. As for less “happy” arias, as I have written before, the danger is that they become really difficult to appreciate as it seems that the time is exaggeratedly dilated. I do not think that this feature is conductor Dmitry Liss’s fault because actually his conduction is rich in orchestral colours, delighting the listener in the more “still” parts of the singing, and sometimes it is him that spurs the soprano, as in The Snow Maiden.
There is not only light in Peretyatko’s Russian album and, despite here there are less disputable “caprices” than in her previous recordings (I think in particular of her pauses before singing a high note, something that can be comfortable for her but that is rather unpleasant to hear – this never happens in Russian Light), this too is far from being perfect. To be an introduction to Russian music is its best feature after all.