Monday , February 26 2024
pianist helene grimaud

Music Reviews: Hélène Grimaud, Konstantin Krimmel – ‘Silent Songs’ (Art Songs of Valentin Silvestrov); Marie-Eve Munger – ‘Maestrino Mozart,’ Early Arias

Hélène Grimaud, Konstantin Krimmel: Silent Songs, Music of Valentin Silvestrov

Piano and voice are on equal footing in the Silent Songs by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. The composer directed that in this song cycle “the voice should not stand out from the piano, but should emerge as if from the depths of the piano sound, sometimes rising, sometimes falling back into it.” In baritone Konstantin Krimmel, pianist Hélène Grimaud found the perfect partner for a recording of selections from the two-hour cycle. Their Silent Songs is out March 3 on Deutsche Grammophon.

The songs weave a plainspoken, almost muted fabric, the piano doubling the romantic-style vocal melodies. Though very different in language and mood from the modernist compositions prevalent at the time, this music from the 1970s shares the specificity of notation that governed much of it. In this recording the melding of pianist and singer creates what seems like precisely the warm, reserved effect Silvestrov intended, “without any attempt at psychology.”

Silent Songs album cover

Psychology or no, plenty of meaning hides in the texts, from poems by classic Ukrainian, Russian, and English poets including Pushkin, Keats, Shelley, and Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko. However, this music is best listened to in a meditative state of mind. Unfamiliarity with the language is almost an advantage. (The liner notes do include English translations, and aspects like Shevchenko’s invocation of “you, my Ukraine/widow disendowed” will certainly resonate with today’s listeners.)

That Grimaud, who has a history with Silvestrov’s music, plays with great sensitivity and precision is no surprise. Krimmel’s is a new voice to me. His warm timbre and dynamic control suit the music perfectly. Without drama, he holds one’s interest through sweetness of tone and thoughtful interpretation. The recording captures his voice beautifully. As for the piano, Grimaud plays with transparency, allowing all the music’s beauty to shine through.

Marie-Eve Munger, Les Boréades de Montréal: Maestrino Mozart: Airs d’opéra d’un jeune génie

As Hélène Grimaud searched for a singer to collaborate with on Silvestrov’s songs, Canadian coloratura soprano Marie-Eve Munger was searching the soul of the young Mozart – specifically, in arias and recitatives from operas and other dramatic works the young genius wrote between the ages of 10 and 16. From childhood, Mozart understood how to showcase a singer’s control and agility. As if instinctively, he could craft gutsy as well as charming melodies and arrangements infused with a character’s spirit and emotionality. Munger captures all this in detail with a light, silvery tone.

The dramatic leaps and runs in some of the arias might test any soprano. The album begins with Costanza from Il sogno di Scipone (1771), the role that opened Munger’s eyes to the operatic accomplishments of the teenaged Mozart. It closes with the very adult drama and pathos of two stunning numbers from Lucia Silla, written by Mozart at age 16 as he was, amazingly, nearing maturity as a composer of theatrical music.

The earliest works here may be formulaic in one way or another; nonetheless they show the boy was a talent to be reckoned with. Munger and Les Boréades de Montréal present arias like “Amoretti che ascosi” from La finta semplice airily, not trying to wrest more out of them than is there – wisely, for there’s no need. An aria from Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, Mozart’s first substantial drama for the court, written at age 11, has drama indeed, ably realized in this recording. And his early gift for musical narrative manifests in the recitatives included, one of which he wrote at the tender age of 10.

Marie-Eve Munger - Maestrino Mozart album cover

Moving from opera buffa to opera seria, Mozart wrote Mitridate at age 14. Three pieces from it form the album’s centerpiece and reveal his ability to convey complexity of character. “Nel grave tormento” in particular boasts highly skilled orchestration to accompany Aspasia’s internal conflict. Munger expresses the character’s interiority with controlled delicacy and brilliant confidence.

Fifteen-year-old Mozart’s serenade “Ascanio in Alba” was performed at Archduke Ferdinand’s wedding. On the occasion (Munger’s liner notes tell us), composer and eminent teacher Johann Adolph Hasse is reported to have said, “This boy will make us all forgotten.”

While it’s hard to imagine Mozart himself ever fading into obscurity, the thoughtful and inspired performances on Maestrino Mozart (out now) will help ensure that the Boy Wonder’s worthy if seldom-heard early operatic works aren’t consigned to ancient history either.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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