Presented on this overlooked CD are 4 song cycles (lyrics by Goethe & Heinrich Heine) with music by the often forgotten Russian composer, Nikolai Medtner, who happened to spend time in Germany and knew the language and culture quite well. Only 6 of the 30 songs on this disc are over 3 minutes in length while the remaining 24 songs clock in between 1 and 3 minutes each. All these songs are sung by the exciting mezzo-sopranist, Ekaterina Levental from Uzbekistan with Dutch pianist, Frank Peters serving as her only sidekick. These pieces are an unorthodox group of German lieder that is capricious, inconstant and by all means, unpredictable. Miss Levental's delivery presents the listener with intimate insights which keeps us intrigued while Peter's lively piano accompaniment supports her voice with impressive renditions and expertise.
In the opening song, "Wanderer's Nightsong", Miss Levental's low toned delivery, affords us with exceptionally intimate diminutions, causing unusual coloring to her voice. Her tempo is careful and deliberate, making certain her words are clearly understood. But once we are allured in, the song ends before you're about to settle in and subsequently, another song begins. Medtner's songs are focused on tonality but in a complicated way. One example is in "I roamed the Meadows" where both Levental & Peters are off to the races with Peters leading a frantic pace. Leventals expressive notes almost sound hurried while trying to keep pace with Peters who is clearly dominating the tempo. This creates an exciting, albeit uneven and complicated rhythm to the song. Moreover, some of these songs are not easy to digest, let alone sing and perform but Miss Leventals dark tones with natural sounding high notes and restricted vibrato establish luscious effects for the listener to easily grasp.
"Spring Song" is well over 50 words more than the prior tune "Wanderer's Nightsong" but also is nearly 30 seconds shorter. With all these words combined with a faster tempo, Miss Lavental's instrument transforms into a completely differenttemperamentthan in the previous song. And her precision and clarity is expressively full of life and vigour. Mr. Peters piano is constantly busy with tempo changes not to mention the isolated accents he needs to embellish. Hearing the two together maintain a musical balance was quite a treat for me to hear. There is an amazing amount of concentration that is required for each performer within such a short time frame, especially with multiple rhythm changes.
"Loveliest Lass" is a simply gorgeous song with a pace which would assume a lengthy development. Given that Peter's accompaniment is beautifully embedded within Miss Levantal's deliberate phrasing, the listener again settles into reverie but not before the song vanishes forever. The variety of melodic phrasing throughout this gem of a recording is beyond astonishing. I must admit that there are, at times, unusual moments to Miss Levental's delivery where outlandish high notes are sung. These peculiar high notes are specifically done so as to nail the tonic note in an extraordinary way. Check out the tonic note on track 11 at the very end of "Lyrical Intermezzo", specifically on the last syllable "wand" from "Felsenwand". Leventals sudden towering note is carried to extreme heights; at least in relation to 99% of the song. The result is exhilarating to hear and most definitely an added bonus on this disc for Levental attaches this musical feature within isolated spots throughout this recording.
90% of the lyrics to these songs are, for the most part, romantic in nature. But there is one poem written by Heinrich Heine that struck me as being a bit unusual; the sixty worded, 60 second song entitled; ""Lieb' Liebchen" or renamed in English: "The Carpenter". I encourage interested readers to look this one up and read Heines' short poem. An oddly romantic short verse.
The primary focus to this unconventional CD should rest on the unusual song writing of Nikolai Medtner and the invaluable and skillful musicality and virtuosity of Ekaterina Levental and Frank Peters. An unpredictable delight!