> Editor's Choice
Mariusz Kwiecien: "Slavic Heroes"
Arias by Borodin, Dvořák, Moniuszko, Rimsky-Korsakov, Smetana, Szymanowski, Tchaikovsky. Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Borowicz. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi 906101
Mariusz Kwiecien applies impressive phrasing and beautiful tone to a program of Slavic arias.
An excellent vocalist and keen stylist operating at peak form, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has recorded songs, sacred works and a few arias on compilation, but in operatic terms he has been better represented to date in the DVD releases of Met HD transmissions. This welcome release from Harmonia Mundi begins to redress the imbalance, with much impressive phrasing and beautiful tone applied to arias both familiar and — even in their countries of origin — obscure. (Welcome though it is, at fifty-six minutes the album is less than fully generous.) To have an outstanding baritone offer thirteen substantive selections in native Polish, very accomplished Russian and creditable Czech is very rare indeed. Kwiecien's voice takes well to recording, and he manages to hook into high notes to accentuate climaxes.
From the Polish repertory, Kwiecien includes pieces by Stanislaw Moniuszko (1819–72), usually termed the "father of Polish opera." The Moniuszko arias, respectively anguished and spirited, are from his central works Halka and Straszny Dwór (The Haunted Manor); there's also a rollicking genuine rarity from Moniuszko's obscure one-act Verbum Nobile (The Word of a Nobleman) . Kwiecien is comfortable in all these moods. Also represented is Szymanowski's King Roger, a challenging but rewarding role becoming more and more associated with Kwiecien. The Sicilian king's final monologue here gives a foretaste of what Santa Fe audiences can expect from the baritone when he sings the role there this summer. Throughout, Lukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony provide strong support.
Kwiecien offers one aria apiece from the leading nineteenth-century Czech composers. The number from 1862's Čertová Stena (The Devil's Wall) , with its flowing melody and somewhat martial rhythm, is more in the heroic vein of Smetana's Dalibor than of The Bartered Bride. From Antonín Dvořák comes another rarity — the Prince's lyrical effusion from 1877's Šelma Sedlák (The Cunning Peasant) , calling for legato and dynamic contrast.
Some of the Russian numbers will be more familiar to Western listeners. Kwiecien handles them all very capably, with detailed verbal and musical attention paid, though at moments a lack of power in the lower extremes — as in the Venetian Guest's showpiece from Rimsky's Sadko — makes one approve the singer's decision to leave some of the heavier Russian roles offstage until later in his career. Tchaikovsky's Onegin and Robert (from Iolanta), however, perfectly suit his present capacities. The collection offers Onegin's aria — treated much more gently and feelingly than by most Russian exponents, and with skillful diminuendos in the optional high ending — as well as his arioso, where the protagonist's sudden passion for the matured Tatiana takes on the melody of her letter scene.
Kwiecien tosses off the Burgundian Duke Robert's romantic apostrophe to his beloved Matilda with confident aplomb . He characterizes the elderly Mazeppa's adoring aria to his much younger beloved well but sounds (happily) a bit youthful of timbre. He encompasses the broad line of Prince Igor's ruminations in captivity with point and darkly brooding timbre. Aleko's bitter monologue from Rachmaninoff's 1892 semi-veristic Pushkin treatment receives a beautifully sung, thoroughly worked-through and gripping reading.