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An Afternoon With the Greats of Russian Classical Music

Anna Netrebko, photo by Chris Lee
An extraordinary season at Carnegie Hall continued magnificently on the afternoon of Sunday, December 9th, with the exhilarating appearance of the incomparable soprano, Anna Netrebko, along with sterling pianist Malcolm Martineau, surely the most esteemed currently active accompanist for singers. (Already this season has featured a fabulous concert with the exceptional tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, as well as the glorious mezzo-soprano Elina Garanča in an unforgettable solo recital.)
The first half of the program was devoted to songs of daytime, with the contrasting second half about the night—it was a superb selection with many less frequently heard works. Netrebko took the stage looking gorgeous in a colorful, satin gown and opened stunningly with several exquisite Russian songs, beginning with three by Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Lilacs,” “Before my window,” and “How fair this spot,” followed by “The lark sings louder” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a setting of a poem by Alexei Tolstoy. Throughout the recital, the soprano, who is a consummate actress, sought to dramatize her delivery, to powerful effect.
Violinist David Chan then joined the artist for a less familiar arrangement of Richard Strauss’s incandescent “Morgen!”—this was one of the supreme moments of the afternoon. Two lovely examples from the French repertoire ensued: a Paul Verlaine setting by Claude Debussy, "Il pleure dans mon coeur,” and the thrilling aria, “Depuis le jour,” from Gustave Charpentier’s opera, Louise. This was followed by two beautiful songs by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: “It was in the early spring” and “Tell me, what in the shade of the branches,” the former another setting of Tolstoy. The singer concluded the first half eclectically with Frank Bridge’s “Go not, happy day” and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata,” during the latter of which she briefly and charmingly danced.
After intermission, the excellent mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano joined Netrebko—who returned wearing a black velvet gown—for the wonderful duet from Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades, with a libretto adapted from the short story by Alexander Pushkin: “It is evening.” Another highlight of the recital was the next song, one which, notably, Netrebko has memorably recorded: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Pushkin setting, “The clouds begin to scatter.”
She then performed three more Strauss songs: “Die Nacht,” “Wiegenlied” (a Richard Dehmel setting she has recorded), and “Ständchen.” The next two songs were the celebrated “Après un rêve” of Gabriel Fauré and “When my old mother taught me to sing” of Antonín Dvořák—she has recorded the latter more than once.
Rachmaninoff’s “The Dream,” set to a poem by Fyodor Sologub, followed, along with “Gold is a fine thing,” an aria from Douglas Moore’s opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe. Cano returned to join Netrebko dazzlingly in the sumptuous Barcarolle from Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann before the soprano concluded the program with Tchaikovsky’s song, “Whether day dawns.” The enthusiastic applause of an appreciative audience called forth two encores: Luigi Arditi’s delightful popular song, “Il bacio,” which she has also recorded, and a sublime rendering of Giacomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi, an unforgettable close to a superlative afternoon.

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