The Drozdoff Society kicked off its busy 2016-2017 season of classical music recitals with a program featuring Ukrainian soprano Hanna Golodinskii and Russian-born pianist Oxana Mikhailoff. In line with the Society’s mission, the program at the National Opera Center of America in Manhattan included works by Russian composer Vladimir Drozdoff and by contemporaries of his from the Slavic countries, some well known (Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák), others obscure.
Not at all obscure are the talents of Golodinskii and Mikhailoff, both of whom have settled in the United States just as Drozdoff, Rachmaninoff and other 20th-century composers did. They began with vibrant performances of three songs by Rachmaninoff – safe, relatively familiar selections, but sung with uncommon color and authority. “Spring Waters” sounded triumphantly pastoral, if such a quality can exist. In the solemn “Oh, Do Not Sing for Me” Golodinskii’s high notes pealed like a tremendous church bell, then folded into head voice and seemed to sail like high clouds. She effected such transformations throughout the concert, along with stunning fortes, sweet expressivity, and perfectly executed portamentos that sounded the opposite of gimmicky: natural, and exquisite.
Mikhailoff’s solo performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Dumka” Op. 59 made me want to hear the pianist play Chopin and Debussy: simultaneously sturdy and delicate, richly romantic, with sparkling runs and dense textures. Then she played a challenging piano arrangement of the Nutcracker Suite that calls for such virtuosity it sounded at times as if there were four hands playing. Through these performances she proved herself a titan of the Romantic piano literature.
Golodinskii returned to sing the dramatic “Iolanta’s Arioso” from Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta and Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon,” whose beautiful melodies she animated with graciously modulated dynamics. After the intermission, standing out in a suite-like set of five pieces by different Slavic composers, was an aria by the Ukrainian composer and writer Anatole Vahnyanin from his opera Kupalo, sung with golden brightness.
Golodinskii left the stage to the pianist for three eye-opening pieces by Vladimir Drozdoff (1882-1960), who lived well into the age of Modernism, but wrote in the Romantic style. His works from before he fled the Russian Revolution for the West have been lost, but he wrote prolifically after he settled in New York in 1923, creating many works, all of them for either piano or piano and voice.
“Elegia” is a brief, honeyed memorial to the composer’s artist friend Ivan Djeneeff, another Russian transplant to the West. Certain tight harmonies in the heart of the piece verge on dissonance but never quite touch it. The three-part “A Tombeau de Rachmaninoff,” written in 1943 upon the death of Rachmaninoff, sounds somewhat in the style of Drozdoff’s more famous “friend and idol” (and fellow transplanted New Yorker). It’s not long, but ambitious and distinctive. Mikhailoff capped off her Drozdoff sequence with the “Impromptu,” full of warm, Schubertian good feeling. As a set these piano selections were a fine introduction to the composer’s works, showing a wide range of technique and mood, all exquisitely conveyed by a pianist who has clearly devoted much study to Drozdoff’s distinctive vocabulary.
The Drozdoff pieces for piano and voice that closed the concert were lighter in both spirit and ambition. Sung all on one note, the opening piece of a setting of selections from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses established a childlike playfulness from the start. A touch of modernism in the closing “Marching Song” reminded me a little of works for children by American composer Robert Starer that I played as a young piano student. Through the six-part mini-suite, and in the final work – a setting of the poem “Prisoner” by Aleksandr Pushkin, reflecting soberly on the passage of time – some rather tricky polyrhythms pulsed through the piano accompaniment. Mikhailoff here proved as accomplished an accompanist as she is a soloist.
Both musicians distinguished themselves in these final works, though they were surely a cooldown after the earlier vocal and pianistic fireworks, and specifically the kinetic emotional power of the Drozdoff solo piano pieces. I hope to hear more of Golodinskii’s stunning vocal artistry very soon; she had moments that left me literally gaping with wonder.
Further concerts in the series are listed here. Venues are in four cities: New York City, Stamford CT, New Haven CT, and Red Bank NJ.