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Schumann and Musorgsky

Schumann: Liederkreis Op 39

Musorgsky: The peep-show; Songs and Dances of Death; The Seminarist; Mefistopheles’ Song

Sergei Leiferkus - baritone / Semyon Skigin – piano

 Wigmore Hall, 15 December 2009


This was very much a recital of two halves, the first being devoted to Schumann’s Liederkreis.  The great Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus is justly a favourite with London audiences, but he seemed ill at ease in this repertoire.  With a score in front of him he sang in what sounded to me heavily accented German.  The depth and quality of his voice was apparent, but there was nothing in his interpretation to capture the imagination and we went to the interval in down-beat mood.


Happily the second half, devoted to the songs of Modest Musorgsky, was a totally different story.  Here Leiferkus was in his element, absolutely assured, and totally mesmerizing for the audience. 


These are essentially ballad songs, and every nuance in the stories was picked up and realised by gesture, the expression of the face and above all in colouration of the voice.   The darkness in the humour, was very fully realised, both in the Songs and Dances of Death* and the “Song of the Flea”, which are relatively well known, and the much rarer Peep-show, a substantial piece of musical and verbal satire (the words are Musorgsky’s own) lampooning various well known characters of the day, and The Seminarist vacillating between piety and sin.  


The audience were completely engrossed and it seemed that nothing could appropriately follow such a tour de force.  But the performers returned repeatedly to the platform with three of Tchiakovsky’s songs – replacing comedy with tragedy – so effectively that I noted several eyes being wiped.  Throughout the evening pianist Semyon Skigin had been fully supportive, with these songs he did more, wringing heartbreak quite shorn of sentimentality.



Serena Fenwick



By chance I have been writing this report on the same day as returning to the Wigmore Live CD of Ewa Podles and Garrick Ohlsson’s 2008 recital, in preparation for their welcome return to the Wigmore Hall tomorrow, 20th December.  


Amongst the items that they recorded is Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, presenting the opportunity to compare these two superb interpretations.


Whilst Leiferkus’s “Death” impresses and carries all inexorably before him with the power of his voice, Podles is more devious and subtle, conjuring up a profoundly unnerving “Death” that creeps and conquers in the night!   SF