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Twelve Days of Christmas: Slavic Heroes

available at Amazon
Slavic Heroes, M. Kwiecień, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Ł. Borowicz

(released on January 10, 2012)
HMW 906101 | 55'18"
We have witnessed Mariusz Kwiecień's appeal on stage before. The Polish baritone's new recital of opera arias, recorded back in 2009 with some touch-ups or additions made early last year, gives ample occasion to admire the smoothness and resonance of his voice, while the packaging, with photos of the open-collared singer, may be geared to a portion of the audience with other concerns. Most aria recitals of this sort are hardly worth recommending on musical terms, being aimed mostly at the rabid fans of individual singers. This disc, under the less than imaginative title Slavic Heroes, does offer many excerpts of operas one does not hear often in this part of the world and that are worth knowing. Besides the more obvious choices of Borodin's Prince Igor and Tchaikovsky (Mazeppa and Eugene Onegin, the latter title role being one of Kwiecień's recent successes), there are unexpected selections of Polish, Czech, and Russian operas. Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, Rachmaninoff's Aleko, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko are not exactly unknown quantities, but Smetana's Čertova stěna (The Devil's Wall) and Dvořák's The Cunning Peasant are off the beaten path, not to mention excerpts from three different operas by 19th-century Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko. While none of the Moniuszko selections sounds like much more than watered-down Donizetti or Verdi, the disc ends with another Polish composer, an excerpt of Karol Szymanowski's Król Roger, the title role of which Kwiecień will sing this summer at Santa Fe Opera. The Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Łukasz Borowicz, accompanies ably, although the balances sound a little artificial.

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