With her album Charmes, Ukranian soprano Olena Tokar shows her love of female song repertoire from the 19thand 20th century. Women composers have historically been thin on the ground, but the ones who received public attention, either in their time or more recently, were, and remain, utterly fascinating.
On the album, we have the feisty Alma Mahler, who threatened to leave her husband, Gustav, less he supported her compositional career (he acquiesced of course). We also have Clara Schumann, pianist extraordinaire and muse to the young Brahms. Soprano and multi-lingual composer Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910) also impresses. Viardot’s obvious talents were noticed by the Schumann circle and she worked with every known composer of her time. The lesser-known Czech composer Vitēzslava Kaprálová (1915-1940) wraps up the recording.
Ukrainian soprano Olena Tokar has chosen her material well and she certainly knows how to bring out the best in the song. She has all the qualities you would want a good songstress to possess – power, sensitivity, perfect control and technique (she sings for the Leipzig opera). She phrases naturally, without labouring a point.
The highlights for me were Alma Mahler’s seductive Silent town and the beautiful Mild summer night in the sky.I am at ease with you with words by Rainer Maria Rilke also warmed my heart. Meanwhile Clara Schumann’s Soft,secret whispers here and there was deliciously sung by Tokar.
Among Viardot-Garcia’s songs, French song Hai luli suited Tokar’s beautiful lower register. The Russian repertoire was particularly moving, Tokar’s high notes delicate, heart-rending in On Georgian hills with Pushkin’s libretto and Golden glow of the mountain peaks a beautiful lullaby.
Vitēzslava Kaprálová’s Forever is reminiscent in mood and style of Debussy’s early song cycle – Chansons de Bilitis. Her other songs meanwhile were full of lovers’ passion and pain and her style composed of ever-shifting moods. Kaprálová died of TB having just married. Though hers was a short life – she leaves behind a great body of work – chamber, orchestral works which are gradually being discovered. *
Look forward to seeing Olenar Tokar live in opera now. If you were to sum up her voice – I would say ‘soulful’.
I should add that pianist, Igor Gryshyn, accompanying Tokar seamlessly on the album, has recently brought out Transitions, in which he performs Scriabin and Kosenko.
* Vítězslava Kaprálová’s work and life was featured in episodes 6 and 9, season 3 of the television series Mozart in the Jungle.