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Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Russian Folk Songs CD 1
1. Karabenjniki: Oj, palna, palna karobushka (The peddlers: Oh, the little box is full) [3:40]
2. Vdol'pa ulitse (A snowstorm blows) [2:42]
3. Mashe: Ne vel'at Mashe za re (Masha: Masha has been told) [1:44]
4. Prash'aj radast' (Farewell, happiness) [2:49]
5. Kamarinskaya (arr. Nikolai Ossipov) [2:42]
6. Ah ty dushechka (Ah, little darling) [2:31]
7. Svidan'je: F chas kagda mertsan'je (At the time when the stars) [4:37]
8. Vyhazhu adin ja na darogu (I walk out on  to the path alone) [4:36]
9. Plyaska (arr. Valery Andreyev) [2:40]
10. Elegia: Kagda, dusha (Elegy: When, my soul, you wanted) [6:07]
11. O, jesli b mog ja vyrazit (Oh, if only words could convey) [2:13]
12. Ochi chornyje (Dark eyes) [2:13]
13. Lipa (The lime tree) [5:09]
14. Ne adna vo pole daroshka (Not just one path) [3:50]
15. Nochen'ka: Ah'ty, nochen'ka (Night: Oh, sweet night) [3:39]
16. Jamsh'ik: Kak grusna, tumanna krugom (Coachman: How dismal and misty) [3:54]
CD 2
1. Kalinka (arr. Fjodor Kozlov) [4:00]
2. Barinya (arr. Anatoly Novikov) [2:22]
3. Ach ti slishesh li (Ah! Do you hear my dearest friend) (arr. Ivan Rupin) [1:12]
4. Na goryshkye (On the little mountain) (arr. Oleg Kolovski) [1:25]
5. Khorovodnaya (Round dance) (arr. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) [00:54]
6. Shto zatumanilas (Why have you misted over, clear sunset?) (arr. Ivan Poltavtsev) [2:50]
7. Ya vstretil vas (I met you) (arr. Fjodor Kozlov) [5:14]
8. Ivushka (The little widow) (arr. Paul Reade) [5:00]
9. Kak meneya mladu (How was I, a tender young maiden) (arr. Dmitri Shostakovich) [1:08]
10. Kachelniye (Rhyming song) (arr. Avenir Mikhailov) [2:11]
11. Uch ti polye (Ah, you field) (arr. Anatoly Novikov) [3:59]
12. Shto bye belaya berioza (As never white birch tree) (arr. Fjodor Kozlov) [3:38]
13. Nye slishna shuma gorodskovo (The noise of the town cannot be heard) (arr. Nikolai Dranitsyn) [5:40]
14. Vtyomnon lesye (In the dark forest) (arr. Andrei Pashchenko) [4:16]
15. Uch kak pal tuman (Already the fog has descended) (arr. Leonid Schwartz/Ivan Poltavtsev) [3:49]
16. Ach vi sini (Ah, shady spot) (arr. Alexander Yegorov) [2:09]
17. Vyeniki (Birch-broom) (arr. Feodor Rubtsov/Ivan Poltavtsev) [1:02]
18. Vihazhu adin ya na darogu (I set off alone down the road) (arr. Dmitri Smirnov) [4:34]
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Ossipov Russian Folk Orchestra/Nicolai Kalinin (CD1)
St. Petersburg Chamber Choir/Nikolai Korniev (CD2)
rec. June 1991, Moscow State Conservatory, Moscow (CD1); May 1996, State Academic Capella, St. Petersburg (CD2). No texts supplied
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 4800472 [55:52 + 56:43]


Experience Classicsonline

I welcomed Decca Eloquence’s reissue of David Del Tredici’s Final Alice last month and commended them for resurrecting discs that aren’t otherwise available. This Philips set appears to derive from two separate recordings made in 1991 and 1996, the first with the Ossipov Folk Orchestra, the second with the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir. Of course the Ossipov band will be familiar to anyone who has heard their historic Mercury Living Presence recording of Balalaika Favorites (4756610). They are a bright, invigorating band and an ideal partner for the impassioned, idiomatic singing of Dmitri Hvorostovsky. At the outset I was less than enthusiastic about the second disc but found myself warming to the music-making as the disc progressed.

The CD cover shows a very young Hvorostovsky – a world away from his silver-haired Germont père at Covent Garden last January – and it’s that youthful ardour that makes the first disc so special. As it happens it’s the band that strikes the boldest pose with ‘teh peddlers: Oh, the little box is full’ but Hvorostovsky soon proves his mettle with some spirited singing. Not only that, he brings an operatic intensity to the lyrics that seems entirely right. 

He is also moving in the quieter pieces, especially ‘A snowstorm blows’ and ‘Masha: Masha has been told’, where the orchestra is more restrained but still atmospherically recorded. Unfortunately no song texts are provided, which is understandable in a collection like this, but cued synopses would be useful for those who don’t know these songs. I suppose the titles tell us all we need to know and Hvorostovsky’s vocal colouring does the rest. Certainly his solo singing in ‘Farewell happiness’ is heartbreaking, with exemplary control, notably in those soft,  floated high notes. 

Of the orchestral tracks it’s a joy to hear the crisp, clear balalaikas in ‘Plyaska’ and in that perennial favourite ‘Kamarinskaya’, the distinctive, surging rhythms superbly articulated. But if this is quintessentially Russian in sound and mood then the lovely ‘At the time when the stars’ is equally so. The inwardness of this song is very well served by the singer’s finely graded, unmannered vocal style. The Philips recording is warm and natural, too, with the balance between soloist and orchestra nicely judged. 

In fact, sensitivity and good taste abound on this disc. Even in the more extrovert moments singer and band never succumb to sentimentality. This is always a risk with songs that can so easily sound lachrymose, among them the heartfelt ’I walk out on to the path alone’, ‘’Elegy: When my soul you wanted’, and ‘If only words could convey’. The latter also finds Hvorostovsky in ringing, heroic voice at the end, the orchestra rising to the occasion as well. 

The conductor Nikolai Kalinin is a model of restraint and good sense, judging the music’s emotional and musical peaks to perfection. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this repertoire being more winningly done. Of course there are alternative approaches to this repertoire, such as the legendary Red Army Ensemble, who bring another kind of magic to this repertoire. In either case that uniquely Russian sound seldom fails to thrill. 

The programme is also well chosen, the more reflective songs alternating with more bravura ones. Among the latter is ‘Dark eyes’, to which Hvorostovsky brings real passion, not to mention superb diction, the hard consonants and soft vowels as clear and commanding as one could hope for. 

After that display the gentle orchestral item ‘The lime tree’ sounds even more magical. There is plenty of detail here and the overall effect is most satisfying. A lovely piece, affectionately played. Ditto ‘Not just one path’, where the Ossipov band underpin the vocal line with great subtlety. Once again one revels in the unforced naturalness of Hvorostovsky’s burnished baritone; just listen to that sustained note beginning at 3:18. And then there’s some beautifully phrased pianissimo singing and phrasing in the solo ’Night, oh sweet night’. Yes, there is some breathiness and a touch of histrionics here but it hardly matters when the singing is this good. 

This enchanting disc rounds off with ’Coachman: How dismal and misty’, complete with its orchestral clip-clop and jangle of bridle and harness. As ever Hvorostovsky is in fine voice, darkly virile and splendidly articulate. 

Well, how do you follow that? Impossible, perhaps. As a single disc this would be highly desirable but I had my doubts about the second one. There are several reasons for this. For a start, I found the music-making less spontaneous sounding, the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir brighter and lighter than I had expected. And then there are the arrangements – one of them by Shostakovich, no less – which are variable to say the least.

That said ‘Kalinka’ isn’t at all bad, but either the recorded balance or simple wear and tear has robbed Hvorostovky’s voice of its usual warmth and body. Rhythmically I found the piece less convincing than usual but the choral singing is certainly crisp and clear. The recording venue sounds cooler, more analytical, making some of the more declamatory passages, especially in the animated ‘Barinya’ and ‘Ah, do you hear my dearest friend’, seem a little lightweight.

Vocally Hvorostovsky’s baritone seems to have lightened in the intervening years. It still has a marvellous ringing quality but it’s not always so steady. Admittedly this disc seems to focus more on the choral singing than the soloist – emphasised by the recording balance – so perhaps the first disc gives Hvorostovsky more scope to impress. 

The a cappella choral singing in ‘Round dance’ – arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov – is rather disappointing. The singing is crisp enough but the rhythms seem blurred, the overall effect somewhat anodyne. Matters improve a little in ‘When I met you’, with Hvorostovsky sounding more like his younger self. 

The choir make amends in ‘The little widow’, where rocking rhythms are beautifully realised and the singing has a real emotional tug. And they are surprisingly nimble in the bright little number ‘How was I, a tender maiden’, their vocal glissandos in ‘Rhyming song’ nicely done, too.  In ‘Ah, you field’ they sing with plenty of body and bite, sounding much more Russianate than before. 

It does seem that this second disc improves the more one hears, although I still feel the programme isn’t as appealing or as varied as that on the first one. Certainly the rapport between choir and soloist is evident in every bar of ‘As never white birch tree’ and the meltingly beautiful ‘The noise of the town cannot be heard’. There is a hushed intensity here that’s been missing from this disc so far, with both soloist and choir in spine-tingling form. Just listen to the final bars, as beautiful a piece of sustained singing as you’re likely to hear anywhere. 

‘In the dark forest’ the choir is superb, the women’s voices adding a corona of light to the darker men’s voices below. Rhythmically they seem much more alert as well and again the quiet final bars are hair-raising in the way that only Russian choral singing can be. Indeed, I was completely won over at this point and I’m pleased to say there are no missteps from here on. The choral numbers ‘Already the fog has descended’ and ‘Birch-broom’ are very nimble indeed. 

This disc ends with an eloquent and moving rendition of ‘I set off alone down the road’ Make no mistake, this choir may sound lighter than one might expect but they can sound wonderfully dramatic at times. Just listen to that magical fade as the chorus dies away at the close, a terrific finale to a very fine set. 

Despite initial reservations I’m happy to say this is a wonderful collection that should appeal to all lovers of Russian music. Another winner from Eloquence. 

Dan Morgan


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