Thursday, 31 January 2019

CD Review (The Straits Times, January 2019)

Gamma Majoris Ensemble
Champs Hill Records 138 / ****1/2

Imagine a salon in turn-of-the-century Moscow or Saint Petersburg, just before the Great War. This 77-minute album showcases music likely to be enjoyed by the moneyed class or bourgeoisie during those troubled fin-de-siecle times. 

The music comprises Russian art songs or “romances” by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, arranged and performed by Gamma Majoris Ensemble, four young Russians comprising soprano Anastasia Prokofieva, pianist Yulia Chaplina, violinist Ksenia Berezina and cellist Alisa Liubarskaya.

Of the 25 tracks, twelve are sung accompanied by various combinations of instruments, including Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, By An Open Window, It Was In Early Spring and On This Moonlit Night. His well-known None But The Lonely Heart and Amid The Noise Of The Ball surprisingly take the form for cello and piano duo only. For piano solo, Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne in F major, Meditation and Un Poco Di Chopin make lovely interludes.

Rachmaninov accounts for just six numbers, including songs Before My Window, Do Not Sing, My Beauty, They Answered and the violin showpiece Gypsy Dance from the early opera Aleko, but these merge seamlessly with Tchaikovsky’s typically bittersweet and melancholic idiom. Performed with much feeling and unmistaken sense of nostalgia, this collection could have been called From Russia With Love.

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