No opus number: Orchestration of “I waited in the grotto” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1921)

Orchestration of “I waited in the grotto” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (No opus number, 1921)
CD:  “Dmitri Shostakovich: Orchestral Works”, USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, 1982 (BMG/Melodiya 74321 59058 2)

Shostakovich’s arrangement of this Rimsky-Korsakov song, very much a student exercise, serves as another indicator of the tradition in which his musical training took place.  In the text, a poem by A.N. Maykov, a lover describes waiting for, and ultimately being stood up for, a nighttime tryst; the young composer (still about fifteen years old) scales up Rimsky-Korsakov’s accompaniment into a shimmering, though not especially nocturnal, orchestral backing, in line with the senior composer’s coloristic style.  In the recording at hand soprano Alla Ablaberdyeva’s lucid voice fits nicely with the instrumental effects.

I don’t know Rimsky-Korsakov’s original setting and the Melodiya disc doesn’t contain a libretto.  Maykov’s words in the original Russian are online at REC Music’s Lied and Art Song Texts Page, without an English translation.  I don’t speak any Russian but plugging the whole affair into Google Translate, as of this writing, seemingly provides enough of a sense of the trajectory of the poem to get by on:  The speaker waits at night in the grotto, describes the landscape and the moonlight, and finally reveals that the other never arrived.  The machine translation is awkward and rather inscrutable (“thinning night mistress mullet”), but I’m impressed by the state of the art and I think it’s a good fallback when listening to foreign-language vocal music without a translated text.


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