V1959. SERGEI LEMESHEV: Songs by Schubert, Tchaikowsky, Gurilev, Yakovlev, Bulakhov, Dubyuk, Nolinsky, Varlamov, Shashnia, Shishov, Novikov & ‘Poem of the Motherland’ (Shostakovitch), Live Recital of 23 April, 1949 [most delightful as Lemeshev gives spoken introductions to all the songs]; plus songs recorded 1939-50. (Russia) Aquarius AQVR 357. - 4607123631195
“Here is a rarity: the first of a series of recitals given by Sergei Lemeshev, recorded live at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on April 23rd, 1949. In two sections, the first comprised romances by Tchaikovsky, while the second half was devoted almost entirely to songs by early 19th century Russian composers. It is not complete; only five of the nine Tchaikovsky selections were caught, at least according to the liner notes, but what remains accounts for almost 51 minutes of this album….Though the liner notes state that all but one item in this group derive from studio recordings, two of the cuts, ‘My grandmother’ and ‘Homeland’, are clearly identified on the back of the jewel box as originating in one of Lemeshev's later Moscow Conservatory recitals, that of April 4th, 1950.
The engineering of the recital portion of the program, whether from 1949 or 1950, is a professional job and extremely good for its period. Lemeshev's silvery tone is caught close to the microphone, with enough room ambiance to give it body….his broad palette of dynamics is caught well….
One curiosity that will draw attention immediately is the presence of an announcer who names each selection before it's sung. We're used today to program changes in song recitals being given at the start of a concert, but Lemeshev evidently reserved the right to make alterations at any time as the concert progressed, based no doubt on his perception of the audience's mood, its rapport with him, and his vocal health of the moment. In some instances, the audience responds enthusiastically before the announcer even finishes naming what's coming up next. This is the case with the derivative but haunting ‘Deep is the Volga River’ by Nicholai Nolinsky, who was the brother of then-Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. It is a fine example of Lemeshev's expressive art. He had been going through several years of problematic health by the time of the recital series, singing with only one lung operative from 1942 through l948. While as emotive as ever, he can sometimes be heard breaking the line for breath - but never, ever gasping. His limitations were clearly factored into both the planning of the concert and his interpretations. In other respects, all sounds as fine as it ever did. In Nolinsky's song, for instance, there are several passages that move easily into mixed voice, as well as Lemeshev's signature melting diminuendos.
I find that the second half of the recital contains the more attractive material. Tchaikovsky was better trained than many of his predecessors (not exactly difficult when you take into account the dearth of musical institutions in early 19th century Russia), but Russo-Ukrainian romances were usually a matter of conveying all-pervasive melancholy as hauntingly as possible. These pieces and the Eastern Slavic folk songs he regularly sang in concert arguably provided more of an opportunity for Lemeshev's intimate art to make its greatest emotional impact. The audience would seem to have agreed, judging by their enthusiastic reactions - nor would that be unexpected at that point in Soviet history, thanks to babushki and dyeda still singing songs at home that was already long established as traditional favorites in their youth. The performances of Shashina's ‘I go out alone on the road’ and Varlamov's ‘Oh, don't kiss me’ are my own personal favorites, but there's a wealth of material displaying Lemeshev's great artistry. Solidly recommended, this album is available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com).”
- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
”This Aquarius CD is a welcome addition to the Lemeshev archive of recorded arias and songs….What is especially interesting about this disk is its unusual contents [which] include a radio transcription recording of ‘Russia’ accompanied by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra conducted by Kirill Kondrashin….The 1949 Moscow Concert [portion only] (tracks 1 to 14) is an excellent recording – crystal clear, with a range that approaches high-fidelity.”
- Patrick V. Casali, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2012
“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
“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
“The Russian label Aquarius, which has been doing magnificent restoration work on the old Melodiya catalogue (available at Norbeck, Peters & Ford, online), just made available five releases built around one of the twentieth century’s greatest tenors, Sergei Lemeshev (1902-1977). It is difficult to imagine the pleasures given to Moscow operagoers in the Stalin years (except, of course, for having to live in the Stalin years) and immediately afterward. The two ‘house’ tenors at the Bolshoi were Lemeshev and his contemporary Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993), and moreover the house baritone was the great Pavel Lisitsian (1911-2004). The differences between Lemeshev and Kozlovsky were significant, although both were exquisite lyric tenors who would have been stars in any of the world’s leading opera houses. Kozlovsky’s voice was a bit more tightly focused (some find it thin); he also was more of a risk-taker. He sang, indeed, with a freedom virtually unmatched in his era - far more typical of what we find in the recordings of Fernando de Lucia from the beginning of the century. But do not take this to mean that Lemeshev was boring or unimaginative. His voice had a more ‘juice’ in the sound, more natural warmth. He also had a more prominent vibrato (though it is never obtrusive). If you forced me to find a single adjective to describe his singing, it would probably be ‘poetic’. That is the word John Steane settled on in THE GRAND TRADITION, though at the time that book was written, Western collectors did not have access to much of Lemeshev’s (nor Kozlovsky’s) work. Kozlovsky was surely the more theatrical, dramatically intense singer. Lemeshev’s art, while not ignoring the dramatic, was more strongly focused on the vocal. This cornucopia of Lemeshev releases helps to balance a situation in the CD format that had favored Kozlovsky.
Going through all of these recordings is both a joy and perhaps a lesson in singing and artistry. Just when you think you have Lemeshev figured out (he’s poetic, intimate even, but probably not exciting), he lets loose with an emotional outburst that rivals those of dramatic Italian tenors. There is a huge range of repertoire here - both songs and operatic scenes – and Lemeshev sounds comfortable in all of it. His use of the voix mixte, blending the middle and upper registers in a way that minimizes the differences between them, allows him to produce a remarkably even and flowing legato. As I listened, I kept being surprised by this turn of phrase, that imaginative bit of dynamic shading, this dramatic emphasis, that particularly beautiful tone. The pleasures just kept coming.
Everywhere on these discs Lemeshev’s voice announces itself immediately as a voice of importance, one that demands your attention. You will find yourself holding your breath in awe at many moments of great beauty. The monaural transfers are overall very fine; the conductors are often impressive, while the orchestral playing is at worst adequate. The piano accompaniments are generally adequate, too, although there are a few exceptions in the positive direction. This group of releases adds immeasurably to our knowledge of the great tradition of Russian operatic singing in the first half of the twentieth century and illuminates one of the world’s finest tenors.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE