CD Dmitri Shostakovich “Songs & Romances Margarita Gritskova and Maria Prince”

«Margarita Gritskova is a mezzo who seems destined for some very great things. I have admired her contributions in two of the lesser known operas by Rossini in recordings which Naxos made from their Rossini in bathroom Wilbad series. With this new CD I have encountered a completely different and more profound side to this wonderful Russian singer.
This is the third release in a series that she has made with pianist Maria Prinz that explores the Russian song repertoire; her Prokofiev CD (review) earned two nominations in our recently published Recordings of the Year. The series has been a happy co-production between Naxos and Bavarian Radio; it is my earnest hope that there will be at least one more future release that examines the songs of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
This recital contains selections of the song catalogue of Dmitry Shostakovich presented in almost chronological order. Shostakovich was a prodigiously talented composer who was shadowed throughout his career by the overly intense scrutiny of the Soviet authorities because the despotic Josef Stalin hated his music. While Shostakovich endured no end of hardship because of this, it also helped him to produce some of the most bitingly powerful music of the Twentieth Century. In his songs he produced some very remarkably beautiful works that reveal pain, humour, a great deal of sarcasm and sometimes a touching emotional directness.
Ms Gritskova sings this music with a wonderfully rich and mellow tone that is absolutely even. She has a lively soprano-like upper extension which more than once put me in mind of Galina Vishnevskaya during that singer’s youthful prime. Gritskova imbues each song with the requisite light and shade necessary to bring out the inner details of the composer’s writing. I also find that she has a real sense of commitment to the text of each song. In “The Dragonfly and the Ant” she gleefully differentiates the voices of the two insects. In Lermontov’s “Ballad” she finds both the lyric and dramatic sides of this song about a mermaid luring a man to his death, while his “Morning in the Caucasus” is an evocative romance in which she paints the scene for the listener with soft romantic colourings. In his setting of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. 66”, she offers some beautiful dark vocal colourings to this song with its barely hidden criticism of the world in which Shostakovich found himself.
Without a doubt my favorite songs on the disc are the deeply haunting Lullaby from the Jewish Folk Poetry cycle, which demonstrates the cruelty of the Czarist and Soviet oppression of the Jews. Then there are two gorgeous Spanish Songs where I particularly liked the lovely Moorish spell that Gritskova weaves in “Farewell, Granada”. Towards the end of the recital, we are treated to the high drama of “Spring Awakening”, which she manages with real gusto, and the deeply biting irony of “Preface to the Complete Edition of my Works and a brief Reflection Apropos this Preface”. This song especially shows Shostakovich at his most acerbically critical, as the singer recites all of the different empty sounding titles, and positions assigned to him within the Communist Party, which he was publicly coerced into joining in 1960. Throughout the disc, pianist Maria Prinz provides a fine carpet of sound on which the singer builds her interpretations. After three recital discs together Gritskova and Prince seem to be achieving a really good working relationship. The CD is captured in excellent sound, and mercifully Naxos has given us the English translations of these Russian songs, which helps to make this disc a true pleasure to spend an hour with.»
Mike Parr
MusicWeb International, 31.1.2021

«On this CD Margarita Gritskova sings a selection of Dmitri Shostakovich’s songs. She does it largely chronologically and begins her programme with one of the Krylov-Fables op. 4 and two Romances on texts by Japanese poets. Both cycles were written before the humiliation of the composer in the context of the opera Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk.
After 1936, as Dorothea Redepenning has pointed out, Shostakovich’s songs are quite simple in their musical language and completely focussing on the text. He also always turned to song only when he was in a particularly difficult situation, which was true throughout his life, until the Michelangelo songs, which he wrote at a time when he thought a lot about death.

Margarita Gritskova sings all 20 songs of this programme with the greatest sensitivity. Her performances are ideally declamatory and full of atmosphere. It becomes clear what an amazing variety of expression and moods the composer was able to achieve, often with the simplest musical means. Gritskova’s wide-ranging, excellently focused mezzo voice has impeccable rhythmic control, which not only gives her singing a great richness of nuances and colours, but also allows her to closely link with Maria Prinz’ excellent piano playing.

So if you want to get a good overview of Shostakovich’s song compositions and maybe feel like listening to more, this CD is an excellent choice.»
Remy Franck
Pizzicato, October 2020

«What I said about Margarita Gritskova in my “Russian Tribute” column (Summer, 2019) goes double in this new release of Songs and Romances by Dmitri Shostakovich, especially that her interpretive skills revealed “a keen intelligence at work engaging with poetry of real literary substance making full use of the wonderfully expressive quality of her voice.” As opposed to the songs of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff that we heard in the earlier album, these romances by Shostakovich are often grim, satirical, darkly emotional and sombre, requiring the utmost of Gritskova and her recital partner, pianist Maria Prinz.
In contrast to the earlier CD program, the poetic texts that inspired Dmitri Shostakovich are all over the board, in quality as well as mood. We begin with The Dragonfly and the Ant from 3 Fables by Ivan Krylov, a retelling of Aesop‟s tale of the grasshopper and the ant with a distinctly Russian piquany. “So then you,” rebukes the Ant, “Without a thought sang away the entire summer. That‟s fine business. Go on then – dance now!”
There follow 2 romances by Japanese poets in Russian translation: Before the Suicide, the song of a heart heavy laden, and For the First and Last Time, a song of sorrowful regret for a lost love in which Gritskova uses her expressive voice to good effect.
Two Romances on verses by Mikhail Lermontov are Ballad, in which a maiden cajoles her naïve lover into diving into the depths of the sea to recover her lost necklace –with a musical depiction of the restlessness and turmoil of the sea as a correlative for the human passions– and Morning in the Caucasus, with its evocation of a break of dawn setting where a young man encounters maidens bathing in the shadows. What will follow next? The poet asks, “how can they flee if the sweet thief is so very near?”
The expressive ranges Gritskova and Prinz encompass so well in the Lermontov poems continue in two poems by Marina Tsvetayeva. In “Whence comes such tendrness?” we hear the thoughts of a woman who is uncertain as to whether to trust a new love: “These are not the first curls that I have caressed, and I have known lips darker than thine.” And “No, the drum was beating” captures ambivalence in a young soldier as to whether to hurl himself into the fray, in words that conceal Shostakovich‟s own feelings at being rejected by Soviet officialdom. Rebirth, after Alexander Pushkin, provides the consoling thought that even the thickest coat of black paint will not hide forever the beauty of an underlying painting.
There follow two Romances on Verses by British Poets, including William Shakespeare‟s lesser-known Sonnet 66, “Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,” with its unmistakable note of bitterness and world-weariness that must have meant something to Shostakovich to have even chosen to set it. Two Verses from Jewish folk Poetry include a tender Lullaby and a Warning to young girls not to go strolling before dawn. Then we have 2 Greek Songs, including Pentosalis, the bitter reflection of a youth disappointed in love, and Zolongo, the defiant song of women who are determined to kill themselves rather than accept slavery.
Following two traditional Spanish folk songs, Farewell Granada and Little Stars, we conclude with a pair of bitter, wickedly satirical verses by Sascha Tschorny, which I will leave you to discover for yourselves.»
Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, November 2020