This is not really a song recital, for all that there’s a singer and a pianist on its cover. “Small pieces of opera in a few minutes” is how the soprano Asmik Grigorian describes each of the Rachmaninov romances on this, her debut recital recording, and in these performances with Lukas Geniušas that’s exactly how they come across: 19 self-contained scenes that drip with drama. Perhaps you would expect no less from such a stage animal as Grigorian, but it’s still gratifying to find that her powers of expression are as fierce in front of the microphone as they are on the stage.
Her tone at its fullest, all velvet-wrapped steel, gleams with enough edge to cut through anything a full-throttle Rachmaninov piano part can throw at it, and Geniušas does not give the impression of holding back; in Spring Waters, setting words by the Romantic poet Fyodor Tyutchev, there’s a thrilling few moments as the surging piano torrents briefly threaten to overwhelm the voice. Quieter passages bring hints of vulnerability and a more convincing tenderness than most singers of Grigorian’s power can summon without the voice losing its poise.
Rachmaninov is a composer in whose work Geniušas has shone especially brilliantly as a soloist; here, as a duet partner, he’s just soloistic enough, with an attentive ear for the detail of what Grigorian wants to achieve with the shape of a phrase. The opening song, from which the disc takes its title, is a prime example: Geniušas urges Grigorian on as the music surges upwards, then calibrates his support note for note as the urgency ebbs and the melody descends.
That is the longest song here and, written in 1912, the latest. The programme, in a sequence chosen by the performers, ranges from some of the Op 4 songs Rachmaninov wrote as a student to his Op 34. Some last barely 90 seconds, but here they still seem like a scene rather than merely a song – a panoramic view, not a snapshot. Grigorian and Genušias will make you wonder why you don’t hear them more often.
This week’s other pick
Is from another brilliantly balanced partnership. Alina Ibragimova’s crisp violin playing strikes sparks off Cédric Tiberghien’s serene piano as they turn their attention to Mendelssohn’s violin sonatas – the one he published and those he left in manuscript. The latter an ambitious mature work and a winning first try from the composer when an 11-year-old prodigy.