FringeReview UK 2019
Daria Robertson, Polina Loubnina, Zhanna Kemp gave a soprano flute and piano recital at St Nicholas, with folk-songs and Rachmaninov songs, with a trio of flute solos by Rubinstein, Tchaikowsky, and Shostakovich.
You sometimes wonder what some artists are dong here instead of being heard in London. Daria Robertson is a strikingly gifted Russian operatic soprano, whose activities in Sussex opera companies are burgeoning. But her specialism and spectacular ringing top really cry out for wider exposure.
Flautist Polina Loubnina was able to enjoy the spotlight with a beautifully executed trio of flute solos by Rubinstein (‘Melody in F’ Op 3/2), Tchaikowsky (‘The Snowdrop’), and Shostakovich (The Gadfly theme). Her beautifully tailored tone produced a strong sense of ownership of these piece,s written as they originally were for piano solo, voice and violin respectively. Zhanna Kemp is extremely well-known as piano soloist, in a piano duet (currently Norman Jacobs) and here accompanying Robertson for instance. Her accompaniment was exemplary as ever. The combinations worked so seamlessly you didn’t think of them.
Robertson’s return to St Nicholas, yet again featured folk-songs as well as a trio of Rachmaninov songs. We again heard the ‘Sarafan’ (sundress) tattered and tone by love-making (and a mother’s recriminations unheeded) with music by A Gurliev (Russian always use stern initials describing their composers). The three others too (a Gypsy’s song and two erotic night trysts in an unmarried girl’s bedroom) show Robertson’s ability to inflect a folk element, a mode and rhythm very different to the three Rachmaninov songs that followed. And how joyous and sexually direct these pieces are compared to their western counterparts.
The Rachmaninov trio were ‘Lilacs’, an elegaic but happy piece, the powerfully taxing ‘The Soldiers’ Wife’, with its extraordinary peroration to loss and longing, and ‘It is so fair here…’ Robertson’s command of Russian artsong which demands more sheer heft and virtuosity was quite stunning, the kind you hear in Wigmore Hall. There’s no doubt these three unleash her range in demanding ways the folksongs don’t attempt – they have their unique flavour too.
A Varlamov’s Sunrise ‘don’t bother her in her sleep’(I think the translations are Robertson’s) is another artsong, more lyrically intimate than the foregoing. Then the fine opera composer (The Stone Guest, for instance) Dargomyzhsky’s ‘Maid and Young Man’ setting Pushkin is another tender and memorable piece, supple and flexible from the mid-century.
Finally Anton Rubinstein, a composer we don’t associate with song, since he’s one of the 19th century’s very greatest pianists, famous for his piano concertos (especially his 4th), symphonies, piano music – famously that Melody in F we just heard, also known for his symphonies. But Rubinstein wrote a still-famous opera The Demon in 1874, and this piece setting Pushkin ‘The Night’ is a similarly shadowed declaration in the small hours. Rubinstein rises to the occasion of Pushkin, who as Robertson points out, inspired everyone to their best efforts.
Robertson is a fist class operatic singer and should be heard in much more ambitious venues. Loubnina and Kemp easily kept pace with her. Kemp we see fairly frequently, and it’d be good if she returned with Loubnina for a full flute and piano recital. As it is, we were spoilt here, and the music forces you to realise there’s a literally unsung tradition we don’t hear, unless we travel to Russia.