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In This Moonlit Night
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Six Songs Op. 73
1. You and I were sitting together (My sideli s toboi) [2:42]
2. Night (Noch’) [4:09]
3. In this moonlit night (V `etu lunnuju noch’) [2:02]
4. The sun has set (Zakatilos’ solnce) [1:54]
5. In the midst of gloomy days (Sred’ machnykh dnej) [1:51]
6. Again, as before (Snova, kak prezhde) [2:54]
Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY (1839 - 1881)
Songs and Dances of Death
7. Lullaby (Kolbel’naja) [5:27]
8. Serenade (Serenada) [5:01]
9. Trepak [5:20]
10. Field marshal (Polkovodec) [6:14]
Sergei Ivanovich TANEYEV (1856 - 1915)
11. All are asleep (Ljudi spat), Op. 17/10 [3:38]
12. Minuet (Menu`et), Op. 26/9 [4:48]
13. Not the wind from on high (Ne veter veja s vysoty) [Op. 17/5 [2:19]
14. Winter path (Zimnij put’) [Op. 32/4]
15. Stalactites (Stalaktity) [Op. 26/6]
16. Anxiously beats the heart (B’jotsa serdce bespokojnoje), Op. 17/9 [2:14]
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone), Ivari Ilja (piano)
rec. Moscow State Conservatory, Great Hall, 13 - 24 July 2011
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
ONDINE ODE 1216-2 [58:34]

Dmitri Hvorostovsky has with roughly ten-year-intervals recorded Mussorgsky’s unfinished song-cycle Songs and Dances of Death. In January 1993 he set it down with the Kirov Orchestra under Gergiev in the Shostakovich orchestration, in August 2004 he sang the same version with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic under Temirkanov in Albert Hall at a Proms concert. (review). This was coupled with Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances while the earlier version had a number of Russian opera arias. On the present disc he has returned to Mussorgsky’s original with piano accompaniment.
 
Hvorostovsky has retained his magnificent dark-tinted baritone in wonderful shape and it is a pleasure to listen to him more than twenty years after his sensational victory at the Cardiff “Singer of the World”-competition in 1989. It is possible that the tone has darkened slightly but there are no signs of wear so far. It could also be argued that his interpretations are even deeper than before but again this is marginal - he was a deep-probing singer also in his relative youth. The Lullaby is masterly, the Serenade has all those important nuances that make you listen with extra closeness, the Trepak is invested with violent frenzy and The Field Marshal crowns the cycle impressively, not least thanks to his superb articulation. His regular accompanist is a worthy partner - the ‘accompaniment’ is just as important as the singing and Ivari Ilja finds so many colours that one doesn’t miss the orchestra.
 
This song-cycle is very often the centre-piece of any recital where it is performed, but on this disc the surroundings are almost equals. Tchaikovsky’s Six Songs Op. 73 belong among his last compositions, only followed by his Pathétique symphony and his third piano concerto. They are mature works, not too frequently heard, I’m afraid, but they are masterpieces and though they are not strictly speaking a song-cycle there is a unity about them that is very telling. The texts by Daniel Rathaus (or Ratgauz) had all been written the year before Tchaikovsky set them. They are nature poems in, mostly, dark colours and melancholy moods. Whether there is a premonition of death here is another matter. Rathaus lived until 1937 and was only 24 when he wrote them, but the overriding atmosphere in the music has similarities to the Pathétique which, according to some opinions, Tchaikovsky wrote anticipating his own imminent death. The songs are not all gloomy on the surface - the fourth song, The sun has set, breathes optimism in the final lines: I am madly happy, oh, my beautiful friend / Unendingly happy in this night with you! but the music says something else. The same goes for the passionate In the midst of gloomy days, where the poet exclaims: And again my desire to live glows with passion / To breathe as one with you, to love you! The final song Again, as before is an anguished farewell: My friend, please, pray to God for me, / Since I am already praying for you. It is soft and inward and Hvorostovsky sings it with immense beauty.
 
Sergei Taneyev is probably the least known of the three composers represented on this disc but his music is not infrequently heard today. He studied composition with Tchaikovsky and left a quite substantial oeuvre including four symphonies, lots of chamber music - there are eleven string quartets for a start. He regarded his opera Oresteia as his masterpiece - it is being performed at Bard Summerscape this year thanks to the enlightened Leon Botstein amd the Bard grandees (Ed.). There are more than sixty songs. The six songs recorded here are charming with a Minuet that is rather Haydnesque, a Not the wind from on high with a lovely melody in ¾ time, a thrilling Winter path with a virtuoso accompaniment, the strange Stalactites with a very special accompaniment where one hears the water drops falling. A remarkable composition! As an encore we hear the powerful and dramatic Anxiously beats the heart.
 
After Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky these songs may seem lightweight but they are certainly fascinating and the singing and playing throughout is riveting. A disc not only for lovers of Russian music.
 
Göran Forsling