Chopin: Complete Songs / Olga Pasichnyk, Natalya Pasichnyk

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CHOPIN Songs (19). CHOPIN-VIARDOT-GARCIA Seize-Ans. Aime-moi. L’oiselet. Coquette Olga Pasichnyk (sop); Natalya Pasichnyk (pn) NAXOS 8572499 (57:04)

It seems like 100 years ago, but it was only the late 1960s when Maria Kurenko’s now-legendary album of Chopin songs (recorded, I believe, in mono) first appeared on LP in this country. It was considered sui generis, and so it was for many years; but now here we are in the 21st century, and there are several collections of these charming pieces available, including the first-class performances by Konrad Jarnot reviewed above.

Olga Pasichnyk, a Ukrainian soprano who studied at both the Kiev Conservatory and the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, gives us beautiful, charming, deeply felt, and often spectacularly sung performances of these songs. Being in the original Polish helps a lot—excepting, of course, the four extra songs in French, which are actually arrangements by Pauline Viardot-Garcia of instrumental pieces, of which more later—and it also helps that Pasichnyk has not only the voice but the technique, interpretive skills, and voice to sing them. My only caveat is that, like so many Slavic soprano voices, hers has that unusual (to Western ears) prominent vibrato, not always even under pressure, but in this case Naxos’s overly ambient sonics cover some of the edginess of the voice. Otherwise, her voice is sweet of timbre, surprisingly flexible in both range and florid ornaments, and at times quite stunning in unexpected ways. Possibly because the original texts are less cumbersome in syllabic structure, she is able to sing them at quicker tempos than Jarnot, which allows her to fit in the four extra Viardot songs (totaling about 12 minutes) to the recital while only adding four minutes to the total disc time.

Pasichnyk also possesses a quality rare among present-day singers in that she has a “smile in the voice.” This is a rare and precious asset, not to be taken lightly, and she makes the listener smile as well. The Viardot-Garcia songs are rarely performed because they are far more technically difficult than Chopin’s own songs, but again Pasichnyk rises to the challenge; listen particularly to Aime-moi, set to the music of the Mazurka No. 23 in D. This piece demands not only a polished technique but, more importantly, the ability to use that technique in a flowing, instrumental manner—in other words, to emulate the way the notes are played on a piano. Pasichnyk does this so well, and so easily, that my jaw drops to hear it. And, like everything else she sings, she has worked over her technique so well that one is scarcely aware of the immense hard work that underlies her ease of execution. I assume that Natalya Pasichnyk is her sister, though the relationship is not mentioned in the notes, but whether she is or not, she is a first-rate accompanist and also knows this style like the back of her hand. Again, no texts are included in the booklet.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

It was just a few months since I welcomed a disc with Chopin’s complete songs, marvellously performed by the great Lied singer Konrad Jarnot. I even had it on my list of possible candidates for Recording of the Year but in the semi-finals it lost against Yann Beuron’s Fauré recording. It is still a very good disc but has two drawbacks: there are no texts and translations in the booklet and it is sung in German. The new Naxos disc is sung in the original Polish and while the rather meagre inlay has no room for the texts they can be accessed on the Naxos website. That’s good service but I have never quite managed to come to terms with listening to music in front of the computer. To be frank: I hate that and I have found that I am not alone. End of complaint.

The original language makes an important difference insofar as it was the Polish words that Chopin set. To sensitive song composers the musical values inherent in the sounds as much as the actual meaning of the words are essential. Here one feels an integration that seems totally authentic while Jarnot’s German texts stand out as slightly strange birds. Since he is such a distinctive interpreter, the ‘wrong’ language didn’t bother me but I get closer to the atmosphere of the songs in the Olga Pasichnyk’s readings. Coming from Ukraine, Polish obviously isn’t her mother tongue but parts of her studies were carried through in Warsaw and she was soloist at the Warsaw Chamber Opera from 1992. Hers is a truly lovely and beautiful voice and she is a most sensitive singer, producing ravishing pianissimos. The majority of these songs are lyrical and poetic and Olga Pasichnyk is an ideal interpreter. It also seems that a female voice is more natural in this repertoire, though that may just be prejudice. But she also has the required power Hulanka (tr. 4), this outgoing, burlesque dance, where she responds with some stirring chest notes while otherwise retaining the elegance and sensitivity.

She is also careful with words and the whole recital is so alive and ‘lived-in’. Just listen to her inflexions of the text in Sliczny chlopiec (tr. 8) and the hushed intensity in Melodia (tr. 9). She certainly covers all the interpretative facets of these songs. One of my favourites is Moja pieszczoyka (tr. 12), a delicate waltz, that I can’t remember hearing better sung, and Piosnka litewska (Lithuanian Song)(tr. 16) is another highlight, simple and enchanting.

Her sister Natalya is an extraordinarily flexible accompanist and contributes greatly to the overall impression.

As a bonus we are offered four out of the twelve songs the famous singer Pauline Viardot arranged from mazurkas by Chopin. Viardot was a technical phenomenon with a range of three octaves and virtuoso technique and the songs were written to show off her ability. Chopin was also satisfied with the songs and they are splendid showpieces. Olga Pasichnyk has both the brilliant top as well as a contralto depth – listen to Coquette (tr. 23) – and the technique to negotiate the vocal fireworks.

The recording is fully worthy of the interpretations and anyone wanting a recording of this lesser known part of Chopin’s oeuvre need look no further. At super budget price and sung in the original Polish – the Viardot songs are in French – and with texts and translations available on the internet this is a self-recommending issue.

Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572499

  • UPC: 747313249978

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Frédéric Chopin, Pauline Viardot

  • Performer: Natalya Pasichnyk, Olga Pasichnyk