The presented recording combines two of sustainably impressing species of the development of the (art) song of the 19th century: the lyrical romance appealing with its melodic cantability and the dramatic-expressive, mostly strikingly rhythmic ballade, which gains full effect by its underlying words. It is quite interesting how Mussorgsky is characteristically enlarging the romance-type song in his early creative period before “Boris Godunov” within only six years. 1858, with less than twenty years he set A. Pleshchev`s “The leaves were sadly rustling” to music (see  as the earliest of the presented songs) completely in the style of the traditional song-like romance, as it has been established by M. Glinka and A. Dargomizhsky as a kind of synthesis between western-romantic, especially Italian art song and the early Russian folksong tradition in the musical drawing-rooms of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Six years later Mussorgsky is developing this traditional musical spectrum of forms and expressions in a real revolutionary way with his composition of Pushkin`s “Night” (see  as the latest piece in the group of songs “before Boris”), by adapting the song line to the typical Russian language melody and by dissolving thus for example the musical formal forces of a permanent beat-bound measure. The innovative power of Mussorgsky was opening new possibilities and is shown very distinctly in this example, when considering the independent role of the piano, its harmonics reaching to the limits of diatonic and the shade of the expression achieved by this. It is no wonder, that composers from Debussy to Janáček and (of course!) Shostakovich have intensively studied Mussorgsky’s endeavours to seize idiomatical language melody with means of music and have adapted them to their respective language-cultural context.
The dramatically creative moments of ballades is typical for the cycle of „Songs and dances of death“, which can be pursued back to Mussorgsky himself in his versions resp. revisions of „Boris“. In all four tales death himself is the real protagonist and is shown as the salvator from misery and suffering of the world (see ,  und ), and the final and real winner of any war (see ). When death is dissolving the misery of the poor peasant by dancing (see ), when he is erasing the personality of the mortally ill young woman in his serenade (see ), when he is singing the moaning child into eternal peace (see ), or when he is enjoying his final triumph as the real field-marshal in apocalyptical ecstasis (see ), then Mussorgsky is using musical elements, which are emphasizing the dramatically expressive moments of the episodes in a prototypical way and thus continuing the history of the ballade as a song species in a very effective mode. Musical expression in order to increase the meaning of the words is shown in the “Lullaby”, where the dialogue between the increasingly agitated mother and the permanently soothing death is created by different paces. In “Trepak” or “Serenade” the gradual weakening of the (dancing) rhythm shows, that death is incessantly reaching his goal. In “The field-marshal” death is accompanied at the beginning by scarce accords, than the piano is intensified more and more and thus becoming the background for a triumph march of the victory speech. Mussorgsky was planning at least three more “Death dance songs” – trying new composition ideas mostly in close cooperation with his mentor, the influential cultural critic Vladimir Stassov and the text writer Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov -, but within the three-and-a-half years between the conclusion of “The field-marshal” and Mussorgsky`s death they could not even been initiated. In principal the cycle is playing with the male and female part of death represented in the corresponding Russian word (see for example death as lover in “serenade” or in “Lullaby” death as the nurse – only so the mask of death can be understood properly in the story -, who can sing the child into – eternal – sleep better than his own mother). And as Mussorgsky (and his creative “assistants”) entered thematically new land in the death dance song cycle, the composer could merge in these mini-dramas the traditional form of the artistic song of romance with the (old) Russian folksong ballade: the effective start of a completely new and unmistakable new sound language using the sense of words and the melody of language.
Compared to Mussorgsky Sergei Rachmaninov, who was born nearly two generations later, set to music more songs in terms of quantity, songs, however, had less significance for him than for Mussorgsky. Rachmaninov`s song compositions were created completely in the first half of his life, that is during a period, when he was still living in his home country and having the center of his life there. It is no wonder therefore that Rachmaninov - as shown in the presented selection - is using diatonic melodies and harmonies as musically creating elements more than Mussorgsky. Those, however, are then combined with the - typical for Rachmaninov - highly outstanding degree of difficulty – especially concerning the piano – and thus leading to the sparkling brilliance, which forms the individual fascination of his works. They are not only (see – with the exception of , songs of , , , ,  or ) songs of love or longing or nature, but especially according to their musical character they are traditional romances and thus closer to the old art song than Mussorgsky with his unique synthesis of the (national) Russian folksong ballade leading to its outstanding idiomatic further development.