Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ivari Ilja: "Rachmaninov Romances"
Texts. Ondine 1207-2
Dmitri Hvorostovsky has been committed to the song recital throughout his career. In this the Siberian baritone stands unique among his generation of Russian superstar singers: no one besides Hvorostovsky has attempted to maintain a strong presence as a song singer in concert halls and on recordings. This disc from Ondine, the first of the baritone's new partnership with the label, presents Hvorostovsky's handsome vocalism in twenty-six songs by Sergei Rachmaninov.
Arguments can be made for Mussorgsky as the most original of Russian song composers and Tchaikovsky as the most popular; but I would nominate Rachmaninov as, in many ways, the most accomplished, with the most varied and textured output. He wrote more than one hundred art songs before his 1917 emigration to the West. Rachmaninov drew on a wide variety of poetic texts, setting not only verse by the giants of Russia's golden age (Pushkin, Lermontov, Fyodor Tyutchev and Afanasy Fet) but the poems and translations of his contemporaries, including Ivan Bunin, Dmitri Merezhkovsky, Konstantin Bal'mont and Alexander Blok.
Fourteen of the songs on this CD appear on one or the other of the baritone's earlier recordings for Philips, 1991's Russian Romances (with Oleg Boshniakovich) and 1996's Russia Adrift (with Mikhail Arkadiev). Many of these repeats are famous items, such as the Hollywood favorite "In the silence of the mysterious night" and the sentimental mini-drama "Yesterday we met." Few would complain about hearing them again. The new collection does contain a number of strikingly underperformed songs, starting with the initial offering, an intriguing setting of Sonia's final "We shall rest" monologue from Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.
Hvorostovsky still brings to bear remarkable vocal security and tonal beauty in approaching this literature; his timbre has darkened but retains its point and clarity. He has a wide dynamic palette but — as before — tends to favor loud shadings, especially on top and sometimes at the expense of needed intimacy. The predilection for stentorian top notes apart, his control of line is quite exceptional, and in places the musical model of his idol Pavel Lisitsian is evident. However, Hvorostovsky's breathing remains more audible than that of almost any leading singer of his high caliber. It's just something one accepts (or doesn't). His diction is very clear; as on the opera stage, Hvorostovsky now imbues his tone with more feeling than he previously risked, so his interpretations have gained a bit in depth. Yet his singing, though expressive, remains generalized — the highest grade of "operatic" song-singing. He is not the kind of singer who can get insidesong texts and illuminate every shift of character or mood — as did, in this specific repertory, Lisitsian, Dolukhanova, Tourel, Gedda and Leiferkus.
A virtuoso pianist, Rachmaninov wrote some of the most challenging accompaniments this side of Franz Liszt. Ivari Ilja, with whom Hvorostovsky has previously recorded Tchaikovsky Romances (2009) and Pushkin Romances (2010), is a very accomplished accompanist, but he is not a virtuoso. Still, these two talented musicians work in sync; for first-time listeners to Rachmaninov's lyrical oeuvre, this CD would make a very fine introduction.