These 17 art songs by Alexander Feht are melodic beautiful pieces...and though some of the compositions are quite complex, they land on my ears with pleasant ease. 8 are in Russian, 3 in Italian, and 6 in English.
Nikolai Doroshkin, who sings the first 15 songs, has a powerful tenor voice...though I wouldn't describe it as having a "smooth" sound, it's robust and extremely expressive, with an outstanding range. Track 16 is sung by Rufina James, a fine soprano with rich deep tones. Sergey Chechetko's piano accompaniment is excellent, with a terrific technique that however always is in balance, giving the singer center stage.
The final track is "Ozymandias", the poem by P.B.Shelley, and is sung by the composer. As the insert states: "...for those who would be interested in hearing his voice, though the composer readily admits that he is not a professional singer"...and I certainly was interested...he doesn't possess a big voice, but the interpretation of his own composition is wonderful.
The insert contains the English text of all the songs, bios of the artists, and some comments by Mr. Feht on the state of music today that I think most accurate, and that applies to the condition of most of the arts.
About the album
Alexander Feht has written more than 100 art songs, an opera, violin and piano sonatas, several string quartets, and a chamber symphony. His future CDs will contain full song cycles. The next one, "Arion", will consist of the 21 songs on the famous Alexander Pushkin's poems. His current disc, "Demon", is something of a sampler of songs taken from the various cycles; this collection is a good introduction to Feht's music.
Title "Demon" requires some explanation. The word is the same in Russian and in English. However, in Russian it has a special literary and musical history. A symbolic figure of Demon has been frequently used in Russian Romantic literature and music to portray a bitter man dissatisfied with the world. A well-known poem by Mikhail Lermontov, "Demon", is about an angel exiled from Paradise who falls in love with a mortal woman but fails to overcome her faith; Rubinstein's opera is based on the same poem. Alexander Pushkin's famous verse "Demon", used in a title track of Alexander Feht's CD, is about a poet meeting his old friend returning home from long Siberian exile. Hardened by misfortunes, friend doesn't share any more the passions of their youth for beauty, love, or freedom. The poet, clinging to the ideals of the past, perceives his friend's contagious cold disenchantment as "demonic".
In today's society bitter views are often rejected. Criticizing the current state of music doesn't help musician's professional career, and is aggressively opposed, as if it were some kind of a heresy. Being non-modernist equals being non-conformist. Still, there must be someone finally saying that the emperor is naked: abysmal noise is not music, antique statues had qualities unseen in modernist art. True talent shines throughout the centuries while decadent fashions pass into oblivion. Defending harmony and beauty is perceived now as demonic evil. Demons of the past haunt those few who dare to visit the desolate temple of classical music.
About the Artist
Alexander Feht was born in Siberian Akademgorodok (Academy town), in a family of mathematician known not only for his scientific works but also for his anti-Soviet activity. Alexander started violin lessons at the age of 3, and went to music school and college for piano, violin and composition classes.
After graduation, a musical career was closed to him, since he didn't follow the beaten path of political subservience. He worked as a night guard and did construction work. He composed his music and wrote his poetry without any hope of publication or public performance. Only a few friends knew of their existence.
After Alexander's brother-in-law, Dimitri Sokolenko, escaped to America (www.feht.com/wcp/ds/), Alexander's wife was fired from her job in a scientific institute as a "sister of the traitor". The military was threatening to send Alexander to Afghanistan, or, if he refused, to mental hospital for life. At the same time, the KGB found some of his anti-Soviet poetry while searching the apartment of a man who obligingly supplied them with the name of the author. Leaving the country as soon as possible was Alexander's only hope to survive. Fortunately, at that time (Gorbachev's perestroika just started) this option existed: KGB didn't seem to mind getting rid of the troublemaker.
It wasn't simple to leave the USSR even if the authorities didn't mind. An invitation from a foreign relative was necessary. Already in the US, Dimitri provided a fake invitation from an unexisting aunt (invitation from himself obviously wouldn't work: he was a "traitor"). The exit visa and citizenship refusal needed to leave the country would cost 500 rubles per person - half a year's salary. Alexander and his wife had to sell everything to raise the money.
Another major problem was that the Soviet Government would not allow any manuscripts to be brought out of the country. Photographs were taken of all the scores, and the resulting films were given to the Western tourists who agreed to bring them through the customs, and to mail the films to Dimitri in the States. When he received the scores, Dimitri mailed a postcard to Alexander using a code. The manuscripts were safe.
He started his new life in the US with only a few dollars and very little English but with a strong desire to find an audience for his music. Unfortunately, tonal serious music wasn't in vogue in the 1980s. Needing to support his family, Alexander started a translation business, which, after several years, became very successful. During this time, classical music critics began to show interest in tonal music once again. Meanwhile, Alexander was digitizing his scores and sending score samples to professional classical singers who might be interested in performing his vocal compositions and participating in recordings.
One day he received a demo disk from Moscow with some of his songs recorded by tenor Nikolai Doroshkin and pianist Sergey Chechetko, showing impressive technical ability and understanding of music. Next year his first CD, "Demon", was recorded in Moscow.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Demon (in Russian, words by Alexander Pushkin)
2. I Come out Alone ... (in Russian, words by Mikhail Lermontov)
3. Kazbek Monastery (in Russian, words by Alexander Pushkin)
4. The Day-Star is Gone (in Russian, words by Alexander Pushkin)
5. A Dream (in Russian, words by Mikhail Lermontov)
6. The Faded Joy of My Wild Years (in Russian, words by A. Pushkin)
7. The Grumble (in Russian, words by E. Baratynsky)
8. Anticipation (in Russian, words by E. Baratynsky)
9. O Nott, o Dolce Tempo (in Italian, words by Michelangelo)
10. A Vittoria Colonna (in Italian, words by Michelangelo)
11. Eran Trecento (in Italian, words by L. Mercantini)
12. Love's philosophy (in English, words by P.B.Shelley)
13. To Science (in English, words by E.A.Poe)
14. I heed not (in English, words by E.A.Poe)
15. Romance (in English, words by E.A.Poe)
16. Bridal Ballad (in English, words by E.A.Poe)
17. Ozymandias (in English, words by P.B.Shelley)