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Renowned Bulgarian Bass-Baritone’s Latest CD Focuses on Mortality

Guechev’s Songs and Dances of Death Pairs Two Pieces for the First Time.

The two works that Guenko Guechev selected for his new solo CD, Songs and Dances of Death, are both ruminations on the subject of mortality.  Recorded at Duquesne University’s PNC Recital Hall, the work features Guechev’s interpretations of Modest Mussorgsky’sSongs and Dances of Death, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite on Poems of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op. 145.

Guechev, a renowned Bulgarian bass-baritone and chair of voice at the Mary Pappert School of Music, explained that Mussorgsky’s song cycle is difficult to describe as anything but dark, despite its beauty. It is also a perfect companion to the Suite on Poems of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Because Michelangelo is so well known as the Renaissance genius and creator of iconic masterpieces of art and architecture, people are often unprepared for the brooding anger and unexpected subject matter in his poetry. Yet Shostakovich found inspiration in the artist’s words and used Michelangelo’s poems as the foundation of this work, his final song cycle, which was completed in 1975, one year before his death.       
Though 100 years separate them, the two song cycles are so thematically and philosophically related that, when Shostakovich premiered his own composition, he selected Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death to introduce the program, according to Guechev. Yet, despite that commonality, the two works never have been recorded together. The glimpse of redemption in the final song of the Shostakovich piece, with hope emerging despite the bleak lyrics and somber music, makes coupling the song cycles on the same recording so compelling.

“It’s like spending 40 years in the desert,” Guechev said. “You sing these two cycles in darkness, but you see the Promised Land in the last piece.”

This is Guechev’s first solo recording, though he has appeared in more than 1,000 opera performances in Europe and the United States, including four years singing with the prestigious Compagnia d’Opera in Milan, Italy. 
Susanna Lemberskaya, whom Guechev credits with having served the greatest singers in the world as coach and accompanist, played piano on the recording. Bill Purse, chair of the guitar and music technology programs in the music school, was recording engineer.   
Songs and Dances of Death is produced by Gega New, a Bulgarian classical music label, and available through the School of Music, from major retailers or from ArkivMusic.

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