V0118. SERGEI LEMESHEV: Tschaikowsky Songs & Arias from Eugen Onégin, Cherevichki, Romeo and Juliet & Pique Dame. (Italy) Arlecchino ARL 98, recorded 1936-53. Handsome Slipcase Edition. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy. - 8016811751248
“The Soviet tenor Sergey Lemeshev is little known in the West, but he was a huge star in the Soviet Union, and one of the most distinguished singers at the Bolshoi. This CD presents a live concert given by him, with the pianist Abram Makarov, in 1948 at the Moscow Columned Hall of the House of Unions. In this popular song recital, Glinka, Balakirev, Schubert and Liszt share the programme with a handful of popular songs and operatic arias. Lemeshev’s celebrated voice is impressive enough on its own terms, but the knowledge that he is singing with the use of only one lung at this time makes his expressive range even more impressive. It is fascinating to hear this vivid snippet of Soviet concert life. Having said that, this CD would perhaps be little more than a historical curiosity were it not for its prize item, Shostakovich’s long-obscure ‘Poem of the Motherland’, written after the end of the Second World War but before the vicious censure that befell him and his fellow composers in 1948. It was written for the 1947 anniversary celebrations but was not, in the end, performed until 1956. A record was made, however, the only one ever released commercially, in c.1950, according to Derek Hulme’s catalogue. Released on 78s, it is an exceedingly rare collectors’ item in the West, and though the score is easily accessible in Britain, I had not heard a recording until the arrival of this CD. Historically, the piece is fascinating, because without it we are left with a very tidy chronology of Shostakovich’s politically ‘committed’ works. Shostakovich was not commissioned to write the ‘Poem of the Motherland’, but he felt obliged to produce something for the thirtieth anniversary of the October Revolution. The Poem wasn’t selected for the anniversary celebrations, however, and a passing sarcastic comment in the 1948 Composers’ Plenum hints at why: it sounded too trivial, too popular, as though Shostakovich hadn’t invested a great deal of effort into its composition.
This historic performance captures all the energy and spirit of those well-known songs: the playing is disciplined and clear, the soloists high-quality. The CD is rounded off by Lemeshev’s spirited rendition of Shostakovich’s ‘Song of Peace’, to a text by Dolmatovsky, recorded in 1950.”
- Pauline Fairclough, DSCH CD Review
“In Russia, Sergei Yakovlevich Lemeshev (1902-1977) is — along with Feodor Chaliapin — perhaps the most beloved opera singer in recent history. He was born into a very poor peasant family, in a small village, during the years of the Bolshevik revolution and the Civil war, and Lemeshev was required to become a cadet in the Red Army Cavalry School. It was, however, actually the Revolution that helped him make his dream of an operatic career come true, since the Bolsheviks gave the poorest peasants and proletarians a preferential right to free education. Sergei was assigned to study at the Moscow Conservatory where, after surviving a rigorous competition, he was accepted. (This determined his political views, for as he said many times, ‘the Soviets gave me everything’.) In 1931, he became a leading tenor of the Bolshoi, where he sang for the next 34 years, winning great acclaim. His audience grew, along with his fame, and he soon gained a veritable army of fans, called ‘lemeshevists’. His vocal and artistic qualities, evident to every listener, are beauty of timbre, musicality, effortlessness of vocal production, expressiveness, and very clear diction - qualities perhaps most commonly found in bel canto singers. An interesting comment on Lemeshev’s singing was made by the Bolshoi tenor Anatoly Orfenov: ‘He developed a mixed voice of incomparable beauty, which made it possible for him to take the highest notes with such beautiful richness that even specialists could not explain how it was done technically….His high C’s … sounded virile and full…His manner of lowering his larynx a bit on high notes allowed him to perform the parts which we ordinary lyric tenors did not sing’.”
- Natalie, "younglemeshevist"
“Everything about [Sergei Lemeshev] was artistic....On the stage, until the end of his career, he was a youth, beloved and vulnerable. Even at seventy he still drove his admirers into ecstasies every time he sang Lensky at the Bolshoi.”
- Galina Vishnevskaya, GALINA, p.324