Child, thou art as beautiful as a flower, Op.8/2
By the gates of a holy temple
Within my heart, Op.14/10
The night is mournful, Op.26/12
Do you remember that evening?
I am alone again, Op.26/9
How fair this spot, Op.21/7
The raising of Lazarus, Op.34/6
I am waiting for you, Op.14/1
Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op.145
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone) & Ivari Ilja (piano)
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 8 September, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
While some were celebrating the end of the musical year in SW7, Wigmore Hall ushered in autumn with a superstar wallop, with Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s dip into aspects of the Russian soul, that strange mix of acceptance, fury, tenderness and passion.
The Siberian baritone is still a formidable package – the familiar macho presence that is essentially the same whether in opera productions or at a concert; on the brink of turning 50, he looks in great shape; his stage histrionics may be basic – hand on heart, an eloquently raised arm – but they flow easily and take his adoring audience from night-club intimacy to something almost too big for this venue; between the luxurious white mane of hair and his well-tailored black trousers and shirt there is not one shade of grey, let alone 50; he’s a flirt and expresses it with a self-aware sense of humour – not for nothing have Hvorostovsky and Elvis been mentioned in the same breath. He has that gift, essential for a singer, of engagement, so that he seems to be singing just for you.
His voice is in great shape too – his delivery awesomely even throughout its range; the voice’s breadth superbly focussed; phrasing, colour and subtly applied nuance floated effortlessly on virtuoso breath-control and a youthfully tight, quick vibrato. Under pressure, pitch at the top of voice escaped a bit, but it served the drama of the moment. In short, Hvorostovsky is the artwork, and his audience worships him for it.
If there was an element of one size fits all to the Rachmaninov songs, that’s largely because his selection dealt with the pain and longing of love, and you couldn’t want a voice more darkly caressing and seductive to express their content – and his passionate delivery of songs such as ‘Within my heart’, ‘Do you remember that evening?’ and the mighty ‘I am alone again’ opened up the possibility that perhaps lovelorn misery is not such a bad deal after all, although the effect would have been more powerful had he not been so inseparable from the music stand.
There’s bleak, and then there’s Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the late (1974) cycle of eleven poems based on translations of the artist’s verse from the original Italian into German, then into Russian, a sort of last testament to Shostakovich’s just-about enduring hopes for the human spirit. He orchestrated it and is said to have referred to it as his ‘sixteenth symphony’. The original piano version emphasises the music’s severity – it’s a distillation of fear, aggression and inconsolability. But whereas the Rachmaninov songs had been all about the worm in the bud of love, Shostakovich’s extraordinary, dark settings turn their face to whatever light is feebly making its presence. The irrepressible weight, warmth and empathy of Hvorostovsky’s singing came into its own here, yielding a performance of eviscerating desperation. It was completed by Ivari Ilya’s furious and volatile playing of the piano part, which ranges from John Cage-like pregnant silences to as near literal a realisation of the text as music gets. He was superb in the wry accompaniment to the last verse, ‘Immortality’, in which life trickles on heedlessly. It was magnificent.