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The Bells of Dawn - Russian Sacred and Folk Songs
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
The Grand Choir ‘Masters of Choral Singing’/Lev Kontorovich
rec. 23, 25, 26, 29-30 June, 2 July 2012, Moscow State Conservatory P.I. Tchaikovsky. DDD
ONDINE ODE1238-2 [64:29]

I have been listening with pleasure to Dmitri Hvorostovsky, live and in recordings, since he won “Cardiff Singer of the World” twenty-five years ago. I have also been wondering whether his beautiful voice was beginning to develop some slight rockiness under pressure. However, on the evidence of this third and latest recording for Ondine, he is still in tremendous shape. Yes, the voice is not quite as big live as this recording makes it and he is clearly occasionally slightly forcing on the highest, loudest notes but that only adds to the excitement of this recital, which is really something of a tour de force.

It was perhaps a wise move to divide the programme here between liturgical chants and traditional Russian folk songs. It provides a balance to and relief from the spiritual intensity of the sacred music, allowing a different kind of sentiment to be presented. The piece which gives the album its title was written by lyrical neo-romantic Soviet composer Georgy Sviridov to words by Pushkin but the bulk of these songs are from the nineteenth century. They were evidently chosen as vehicles to exhibit the smooth beauty of Hvorostovsky’s high baritone but the contribution of his superb specialist backing choir cannot be overlooked. They have the famous basses, the plaintive tenors and the strong female voices required. The block harmonies are perfectly in tune and they maintain evenness of line without a trace of Slavic wobble.

In keeping with Russian liturgical practice, everything here is sung a cappella. The highlight is Hvorostovsky’s unaccompanied solo singing of “Oh, Night” (track 15), where his sustained legato, power on the top G of “Da i to so moy” and concluding pianissimo E flat are all stunning. He adapts his style from a stern, hieratic aloofness in the chants to a more “folksy”, expressive manner in the popular songs. He even introduces little yodelling catches in his delivery and abandons all restraint in order to capture the rawness of the songs' emotions. My only concern is that he occasionally makes such audible gasps when breathing; that can be disconcerting.

Thus we move full circle in this recital from the hypnotic, mantra-like strophic chants with their repetitions of “Aliluiya” and “Raduysya” (“Rejoice”) to their secular counterpart in the mimicking by two sopranos of swinging bells. These chime above the vocal lines of baritone and choir and the effect is haunting and mesmerising.

This is a wonderful album — manna for admirers of the Russian sacred and folk vocal traditions.
Ralph Moore
Full track-listing
Dobri KHRISTOV (1875-1941)
Praise the Name of the Lord (Khvalite imya Gospodne) [3:35]
Pavel CHESNOKOV (1877-1944)
Blessed Is the Man (Blazhen muzh) [3:26]
Pre-eternal Counsel (Sovet prevechnïy) [2:45]
Hear My Prayer (Da ispravitsya molitva moya) [7:14]
From My Youth (Ot yunosti moyeya) [2:43]
The Wise Thief (Razboynika blagorazumnago) [2:24]
Aleksandr ARKHANGELSKY (1846-1924)
Symbol of Faith (Creed; Simvol verï ) [5:34]
Aleksandr VARLAMOV (1801-1848)
A Snowstorm Sweeps the Street (Vdol’ po ulitse metelitsa metyot) [2:35]
Russian folk songs
They Do Not Let Masha … (Ne velyat Mashe za rechen’ku khodit’) [3:36]
There Is Not One Path Through the Field (Ne odna vo pole dorozhka) [3:24]
The Lonely Coach Bell (Odnozvuchno gremit kolokol’chik) [4:30]
Farewell, My Joy (Proshchay, radost’) [3:16]
The Fog Has Fallen Onto the Field (Uzh kak pal tuman) [3:42]
Elizaveta SHASHINA (1805-1903)
I Walk My Path Alone (Vïkhozhu odin ya na dorogu) [4:54]
Russian folk song
Oh, Night (Akh tï, nochen’ka) [4:27]
Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
The Bells of Dawn (Zoryu b’yut) [6:09]