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Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Ivari Ilja
Hot on the heels of his Pushkin Romances and Tchaikovsky Romances, both released on the Delos label, Dmitri Hvorostovsky makes his Ondine début by continuing the series, this time with a recital of Rachmaninov. His muscular baritone is broodingly at ease in these songs, which deal predominantly with themes of bitterness, regret and ill-fated love, all of it couched in rich and picturesque verse.
Here and there, one might wish for a lighter touch or a silkier tone – Hvorostovsky's singing is more forceful than beautiful, but his musicality is rock solid, and his dramatic sense as compelling on disc as it is on stage. Indeed, his delivery is so robust, and his voice so sonorous, that many of the songs seem to morph into miniature arias. Such an approach might be the undoing of German or French art songs, but Rachmaninov's romances, whose poetry and illustrative piano parts (deftly dispatched here by Hvorostovsky’s frequent recital partner Ivari Ilja) are already quite operatic in scope, seem almost to demand it. The desperate agony of It is time!, the desolation of Yesterday We Met, and the pleas of Oh no, I beg you, do not leave! are all brought to compelling life, while the folkish simplicity of Oh you, my corn field and the rare optimism of Morning are also nicely managed, if a little masked by Hvorostovsky's obsidian timbre.
It's also interesting to hear Rachmaninov's treatment of two poems very familiar to Lieder fans: Heine's Du bist wie eine Blume and Hugo's Comment, disaient-ils, both set in Russian translation. If you're feeling fragile, tread with caution; but if you're inclined to wallow, rage against the world, or just to hear some highly charged and thrilling singing, Hvorostovsky is the man for you.