So, here's the promised review of new CD of Mariusz Kwiecień. "Slavic Heroes" contains of arias by composers from Russia, Czech and Poland. The complete list of names goes as following: Tchaikovsky (4 arias), Moniuszko (3), Dvorak, Smetana, Szymanowski, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Rachmaninoff (1). The title is not to be taken too literally - arias included on this album are not particularly heroic and consist mainly of the woes of love, with two or three exceptions.
About the performance quality: Mariusz Kwiecień is at his best here, with his rich, deep baritone voice in all it's splendour. It would be pointless to describe it here as it must be still well remembered by most of you from very recent Met performances. The additional, even if minor merit, is his natural and clear pronunciation in these languages. He is accompanied by Polish Radio orchestra under baton of Łukasz Borowicz - the latter may be not too well known world-wide but he is, despite of relatively young age, a significant conductor who already proved his skills and value by bringing many works, including opera, from obscurity, mainly by radio broadcasts. The quality of orchestral side is perhaps most clearly exposed in Szymanowski's King Roger fragment, the most orchestrally colourful and modern composition on the album.
About the music: apart from Eugene Onegin, all operas arias from which you can hear from this CD are more or less obscure and neglected, some have been commercially recorded under wings of big labels (Rachmaninoff's Aleko, Szymanowski's King Roger) but it may be the first time they are performed by such world-famous singer on the peak of his fame and abilities. A praiseworthy project.
Two arias by Tchaikovsky which do not come from his famous and widely appreciated Onegin may be a bit disappointing if one expects something on the same level as fragments from his operatic masterpieces, but are good on their own right. Other Russians: Rachmaninoff, Borodin and Korsakov are all represented with appreciable arias from their top operatic works, each of which may be impulse to reach for complete recordings.
The Czechs do not lag behind. Arias by Smetana and Dvorak, for a change, do not come from their most famous operas - yet both can be called beautiful. I've listened most of the album one track after another, Dvorak was the only after which I had to stop and sigh a little bit before going further.
Now, Moniuszko - I bought the album particularly because of his music being on it. And I wasn't disappointed. Next to two splendid arias from his two hallmarks - Halka and Straszny Dwór, we may also hear little, enjoyable aria from his forgotten comic opera, Verbum Nobile (which was, nevertheless, recorded and may be hear in it's entire form). These arias make the highlight of the whole album for me, not only because of my personal preference for Moniuszko but also because I find him to be most naturally operatic composer of all that have been recorded here. At the very end we got final fragment of Szymanowki's King Roger. At this point I can't help but to bring comparison with Andrzej Hiolski, a great baritone which is closely related to three of these roles: Janusz (Halka), Miecznik (Straszny Dwór) and Roger (King Roger). Mariusz Kwiecień may be the first worthy successor of that magnificent singer. Too bad that so far all we can hear from him are fragments of these operas (except Roger which he performed live in recent time).
The only flaw I can think of is package. The price of CD may be not extremely high, but it's not cheap either, yet it comes with soft box, easy to damage. Compensation for this troube is rather extensive booklet, with all arias in four languages (English, original, French and German).
I recommend this album to all fans of Kwiecień and especially to those who have interest in romantic Slavic opera.