The Chanson Russe is an adaptation of the aria of the character Parasha, a Russian maid in Igor Stravinsky's opera entitled Mavra. The transcription for violin and piano was written by composer Samuel Dushkin in 1937. Based on a Russian folk song, the "song" portion is rather brief, written in A-minor and with a standard 4/4 time signature that covers a little over four minutes. The idea for Reinbert de Leeuw and Vera Beths was to create an operatic work of the "Chanson Russe" in and of itself by playing the piece multiple times, changing the mute on each round. Thus, the work is played eight times with that transmission of intent and method taking place in each fresh rendition. A work of haunting, hunted beauty, it feels like memory, loss, grief, and longing folded into a suitcase of wistful melancholy. Short melody lines, resembling folk dances and peasant anthems, are juxtaposed against a chromatic palette of pianistic harmonics that recall Chopin's "Nocturnes" and Debussy's "Preludes." Woven together in a standard meter, they offer differing sides of a lyrical and harmonic equation that add up to an emotional stirring, the likes of which are equated with unencumbered, drastically prolonged reverie. Indeed, given that the pieces are played in such close proximity to one another, they feel like verses in an epic song or tone poem, or even a round whose depth of feeling becomes relentless and unforgiving over time, yet remains completely seductive. The work is played with restraint and aplomb by the duo; they prefer to let the music speak for itself over and again with little adornment because none whatsoever is needed. This work is emotionally loaded and musically so simple and graceful, it whispers its tears to the heart of the listener and seeks them at the same time.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek