Although Sergei Leiferkus does not have the most powerful baritone in the world, his insight, intelligence, intuition, authority, and soulfulness more than compensate. And in the Russian art song repertoire, he hardly has any competitors. His recordings of Glinka and Tchaikovsky are flat out magnificent. But decades from now, when art song aficionados speak of Leiferkus, it will be his recordings of the songs of Mussorgsky that are mentioned in hushed whispers and reverential tones.
Not since Boris Chirstoff's sublime survey of the complete Mussorgsky songs has another singer of comparable stature scaled the heights Leiferkus reaches in the first volume of the songs. His The Songs and Dances of Death are among the most terrifying, moving, and truthful ever recorded. His The Puppet-Show is dreadfully, nastily witty and his Forgotten is heartbreaking. His Darling Savishna is drop-dead funny. And his concluding Mephistopheles' Song of the Flea is grotesquely hilarious. In all ways, this is one of the best art song recitals in years. Except for one thing. There is not much good to say about his recording of The Nursery. Sung throughout in his head voice, as Mussorgsky requires, Leiferkus' interpretation of the songs through his tone is frankly agonizing to hear. He minces, he mutters, he mumbles, he does everything except chew the scenery. This is still a highly recommend recording, but just skip Leiferkus' The Nursery.