Natalya Romaniw’s star has been shining bright on the operatic stage for the past five years as her creamy soprano voice continues to draw an ever increasing legion of fans. A Daily Telegraph critic suggested in February this year that Romaniw was the next Netrebko of her generation.
At Opera Holland Park last season, I was enraptured by her lead performance in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. Her Tosca at Scottish Opera and, more recently, her Madame Butterfly at ENO, earned her the highest of accolades from critics and audiences alike. Her Cho Cho San at the Coliseum was unforgettable.
And now away from the heady world of live opera, Romaniw, together with pianist and long time collaborator, Lada Valešová, are bringing out Arion, an album of Slavic song repertoire.
To produce such a rich collection of Slavic songs is an interesting enterprise, but it’s not an unsurprising one, given both artists’ East European roots. Who best to interpret this rich repertoire than Czech pianist, Valešová, and Romaniw, whose Ukranian grandfather was responsible for encouraging Romaniw to take up music. Romaniw has dedicated her debut album to her late Dido (Ukranian for grandfather).
The recording offers a dazzling array of 28 songs, conceived by the great Slavic composers of the mid-nineteenth century. Composers that we have all heard of: Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvōrák, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Janácek. Only Vítēzslav Novák, who features at the tail end of the recording, is the surprise and welcome inclusion in this collection.
Taking each composer in turn, certain works stood out on the first hearing.
In Rimsky-Korsakov’s ecstatic Summer Night’s Dream, Romaniw employs the full vocal register to operatic effect. Lada Valešová meanwhile provides the pianistic sparkle to this intensely romantic work.
Dvōrák’s Love songs, Op.83 following, draw on the German romantic ‘lieder’. Around the house now I stagger is a memorable evocation of the restless wanderings of a rejected lover. Dvorâk, like so many other composers of the time, was greatly influenced by Schubert and Schumann.
Romaniw meanwhile, is in her element singing Tchaikovsky, notably Gentle stars were shining upon us. Here,Tchaikovsky’s music really gives Romaniw’s voice licence to take flight.
Perhaps the most satisfying song section on the CD is provided by Rachmaninov. Romaniw’s rendering of the plaintive Oh never sing to me again, is quite perfect, lending it the right amount of pathos, but not too much. Meanwhile Harvest of Sorrow, set to Tolstoy’s beautiful poetry, is both defiant and heartrending. In the closing chapters of the song, I could even detect shades of the Afro-American spiritual! All of the Rachmaninov section is exceptional and Romaniw’s mournful timbre feels just right for this repertoire.
The latter songs on the CD are devoted to composers who were inspired by folk traditions. I was surprised how much I enjoyed Janáček’s Moravian-inspired repertoire. Here we get a taste of the real East European countryside and the dance. Of note, the deeply expressive Láska or Love and Constancy which comes across as a restless dance number.
Vitēslav Novâk (1870-1949), who was inspired by Janáček and Moravian folk music wraps up the album satisfyingly, Autumn mood is sung with great delicacy by Romaniw.
Before listening to this CD, I was worried that Romaniw’s vocal talents wouldn’t be stretched enough on this album but I needn’t have worried. Some compositions are pleasingly operatic, whereas the folk songs are richly emotive and artfully project the full romance of the Slavic experience. Recommended.
‘Arion’ is released on Orchid Classics May 1st 2020. http://www.orchidclassics.com/releases/orc100131-natalya-romaniw-lada-valesova/