A double CD, self-released, freshly offered and already buried under new government measures: the duo Lysenko and Boland do not get the chance to present their wonderful collaboration on the Dutch stages nor their album ‘The Blizzard’, just in the period in which Pushkin’s story and theme fit so well. Moreover, this album is not just a fairy tale set to music. In fact, bayanist and arranger Oleg Lysenko has turned Pushkin’s tale into a new melodrama, using the music originally composed by Georgi Sviridov for Vladimir Basov’s 1964 film of the same name. In his music, Sviridov followed the film story, which is substantially different in sequence from Pushkin’s original story.

Lysenko made very ingenious use of Sviridov’s music (Click here for the review of the orchestral suite by Siebe Riedstra) and for each episode in the story he always set the right mood with excerpts from the orchestral music, which he then also reduced to playable music for the versatile bayan, the Russian button accordion with its many registers. The repetition of certain themes also creates a leitmotif effect in the story; very cleverly thought out! The result is musically stunning, colorful, but above all full of storytelling power. Right at the start, the Troika music, we thunder into the story and are dragged into the freezing winter of 1812.

The year is important: at that time Napoleon was about to invade Russia. This political background forms an important threatening element in the story of a girl of good family and a poor ensign (third officer) who want to get married secretly in a church a village away. Her family’s preliminary flight has also been planned, but the blizzard determines the fate of the lovers, who will each travel separately to the dedication…

Incidentally, the story was written by Pushkin in 1830, the year in which he himself was forced to spend a long time on an estate in the Nizhni Novgorod region – in lock-down! – because of a cholera epidemic. Part of that estate he had received as a gift from his father, because of his just-concluded own marriage! The story cycle “The Stories of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin” written there, which includes “The Blizzard,” is Pushkin’s first completed prose.

As Sviridov’s music is exuberant in its folk musicality, so bright and light of touch is Pushkin’s phrasing. Slavist Hans Boland masterfully translated the Russian writer’s complete works into Dutch, preserving such typical Pushkin characteristics as the vivid imagery and the apparent simplicity and spontaneity of his extremely refined cut word usage. In “The Blizzard,” too, not a word is too much, the argument always transcends a matter-of-fact rendering, and even within the chilling drama there seems to be room for a light-hearted comment. Many years of experience as a preoccupation artist, moreover, echo in his own interpretation of the lyrics on the album, in which he moves effortlessly through the scenes as the narrator, always resisting the temptation to color a roll too deeply.

Boland and Lysenko’s musical narrative is a wonderful tribute, performed to a very high standard, to Pushkin’s storytelling skills and Sviridov’s oh-so-romantic music, leaving the listener longing for the cozy evenings of yesteryear when radio plays were created. A bonus is the second CD, on which Oleg Lysenko gets to demonstrate his virtuosity on the bayan once more in Sviridov’s complete suite, although in terms of duration it would have fit best on the first CD. Unfortunately, the technical details of the album and the duration per track are missing. But that should not stop anyone from “getting” this album on Lysenko’s website.

Finally, the album itself offers even more art: two very atmospheric, ‘bleak’ and sparkling winter scenes, paintings by the Groningen visual artist Jacqueline Kasemier. She made these especially for the project; the paintings also travel with the live performances by duo Boland & Lysenko.

An ideal gift for the winter months!

Harry-Imre Dijkstra, December 2021

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