With her latest recording, This is Not a Lullaby, Dutch soprano, Channa Malkin, explores motherhood. On her album photograph, she perches on a high stool, in a beige baggy sweater, leaving her legs bare. Malkin, a new mother herself, is challenging the almost unshakeable image of the idealised mother and child, which requires women to be pure, selfless, sexless creatures. There is no baby in this photograph but Malkin has tellingly dedicated her record to her son, Ezra.
Throughout the centuries, women have taken on the role as chief nurturer, have borne the responsibility of caring for their children – through war, famine and challenging times. The songs on this album reflect the woman’s struggle and show the child as the victim of war.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s songs, Rocking the Child open the album. Set to poems by South American poet and child activist, Gabriela Mistral, they are truly magnificent. Weinberg’s life was not an easy one. Having fled Warsaw in WW2, he went on to suffer Stalin’s antisemitic purges in Moscow. Though he had largely been forgotten as a composer, in his time, he was lauded by Russia’s foremost musicians and composers. Dmitri Shostakovich, who was twelve years older than Weinberg, famously hailed him as his “mentor”.
Though the music is at times painfully dark, it is seductively beautiful. Malkin has just the right voice for this dramatic, highly emotive repertoire. Her vibrant, expressive vocals have extensive range and colour which makes this soprano the perfect storyteller.
All the songs on this album are performed in Russian (Malkin’s father is of Georgian descent). In truth, even if the listener is unfamiliar with the language, the translated libretto in the album notes is very good and Malkin’s voice is to be relished. The highlights :The Child was Left Alone. Little feet. Little hands about beggar children, Dew, and Fear, which finds a mother worrying about her daughter becoming a “princess” and unable to enjoy the pleasures of running in a field in “golden shoes with heels”.
Josef Malkin’s songs (Channa Malkin’s father) also feature on the album in a world premiere. He wrote the songs with his daughter’s voice in mind. Lullaby with Anna Akhmatova’s poignant lines about a family hit hard by war, stands out.
The John Tavener section was fascinating, again set to Anna Akhmatova’s poetry. Taverner was interested in all religious belief. One minute Russian Orthodox, in the last decade of his life, he turned towards the Eastern religions.
In Taverner’s Pushkin and Lermontov, Malkin’s cries were reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky – except the notes were far higher and sung to thrilling effect.
This is a beautifully produced album and there is no doubt that Malkin is a soprano to watch out for when the concert halls open up again. Her supporting musicians, Maya Fridman on cello and Artem Belogurov on piano, also do her proud.
This is Not a Lullaby released on TRPTK records.