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Dmitri Hvorostovsky: "Russia Cast Adrift"

CD Button St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Orbelian. Style of Five. Transliterated texts and translations. Delos DE 1631

Recordings Russia Cast Adrift Hvorostovsky cover 917
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ON HIS LATEST RECORDING, Dmitri Hvorostovsky lavishes his resources on the most significant Russian composer he worked with personally—Georgy Sviridov (1915–99), who fashioned his cycle Petersburg (with texts by Aleksandr Blok) for the Siberian baritone back in 1995. Sviridov’s wide-ranging if conservative style positioned him as the Samuel Barber of Soviet song composers, with a keen understanding of the voice and how to set words to music. This release features another song-cycle, fashioned on poems by an early-twentieth-century poet, the charismatic (and reckless, bisexual, suicidal) Sergei Yesenin (1895–1925), descended from peasants but welcomed in St. Petersburg’s literary salons. The dozen image-laden poems here breathe with autumnal nostalgia for rural, preindustrial Russia, and they include regular references to Christianity, culminating in the final “Bogomater’ v gorode” (The Virgin in the City), addressed directly to Mary.

During the July 2016 recording sessions, the baritone worked with trusted, tested colleagues: conductor Constantine Orbelian led the imposing St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, augmented with folkloric coloration by Style of Five, Evgeny Stetsyuk’s instrumental ensemble. Stetsyuk orchestrated the songs, providing a fulsome tour of the highlights of Rimsky-Korsakov’s vast legacy (and that of his film-composer students). Sometimes the orchestra here erupts so fully or percussively that it overwhelms the poetry. And, though the orchestra includes a piano, some of the declamational ambiguity Sviridov gave the pianist in the original version is lost. But the baritone throws himself into his work with towering dedication, and this version is certainly worth hearing.

I personally prefer the spare piano version to Stetsyuk’s seriously intended but sometimes overblown orchestrations. But in this recording, Hvorostovsky really lays into the words with incisive bite and deep feeling, though his legato is (understandably) less
consistent than it was two decades ago. The singing is still remarkable, weathering orchestral storms and maintaining steady pitch even in
high sustained passages in which his silken voice can turn granitic. 

Much beauty remains in this superb instrument. Delos’s new version of the cycle offers less than thirty-seven minutes of music, but Sviridov’s music is quite affecting. And this performance is impassioned, a testament to Hvorostovsky’s art and spirit.  —David Shengold

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