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Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Siberian Melancholy

available at Amazon
Rachmaninoff, Romances, D. Hvorostovsky, I. Ilja

(Ondine, 2012)

available at Amazon
G. Sviridov, Petersburg: A Vocal Poem, D. Hvorostovsky, M. Arkadiev
(Delos, 2004)
Two hours of depressing Russian songs -- broken hearts, cold winters, silent steppes, nostalgic pasts, crushing presents -- may not be everyone's cup of tea. When sung with exceptional diction, mesmerizing presence, and oozing musicality by Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, you can count me in. Last here in Washington in 2007 and 2006, Hvorostovsky was fresh off a run of Verdi's Don Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera, and while there were some seats left unsold by Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, it was a concert made for a Russian audience. Just perhaps in a smaller hall. The audience, obviously less familiar with how song recitals work, applauded after every song -- or tried to, stopped a couple times by the wagging finger of Hvorostovsky's hand.

My usual dislike of most instrumental music by Rachmaninoff does not apply to that composer's operas and songs, where perhaps the texts he chose excuse the tendency toward harmonic and melodic schmaltz. The first half of that composer's brooding songs, most of which Hvorostovsky has recently recorded with the same pianist featured here, Ivari Ilja, was potentially stultifying: slow and somber song after slow and somber song, with little variation. Both pianist and singer took their time to let each song unfold, stretching the tempo to set the words in place and craft each shape, the molasses-like gooeyness of the rubato giving the right air of tragic longing and regret. Highlights were the dramatic crescendo at the end of In my soul and the soul-permeating melancholy of Sad Night, as well as the finely turned simplicity of How nice this place is and the shimmering piano part of Lilacs. At times one felt the dramatic leanings of this singer, who is a creature of the stage, straining against the demands of the song recital, like an actor trying to emote rather than just recite poetry.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Difficulties of material, venue don't stop Hvorostovsky (Washington Post, March 22)

Wynne Delacoma, Hvorostovsky returns to Miami, for what may be Drucker’s last stand (South Florida Classical Review, March 20)

Tim Smith, Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky to give recital for Washington Performing Arts Society (Baltimore Sun, March 18)
That problem was somewhat alleviated by the more dramatic songs on the second half, Petersburg: A Vocal Poem, composed by Soviet composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) for Hvorostovsky in 1995. Sviridov, a student of Shostakovich, wrote in a more dissonant style that provided a savory contrast with the sweet palette of the first half. The poetry, by Russian poet Alexander Blok, offered some opera-like dramatic vignettes in which Hvorostovsky reveled, like the halting, quiet ending of The Golden Oar and the drunken howl of I am nailed to a tavern counter. He gave searing intensity to the bleak existentialism that pervades the cycle, too, like the anguished rage of A Voice from the Chorus and the sincere regret of Those born in obscure years. Strong ovations coaxed forth three encores, the central (and best) of which was a preview of Hvorostovsky's Iago, a role he will debut in Vienna this September in Verdi's Otello. The Creed Aria, one of the more blasphemous moments in opera ("Death is nothingness, and heaven is an old wives' tale"), gave a glimpse of a compelling Iago, a sociopath who uses his charm to destroy. The other encores were another Rachmaninoff song (In the Silence of the Night) and a Neapolitan ballad (Tagliaferri's Passione).

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