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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
Suite on Poems by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1974), Op. 145 [39:40]
I. Istina (Truth) [5:18]
II. Utro (Morning) [3:00]
III. L’ubov’ (Love) [4:41]
IV. Razluka (Separation) [1:55]
V. Gnev (Wrath) [1:48]
VI. Dante [3:33]
VII. Izgnanniku (Tothe Exile) [4:24]
VIII. Tvorchestvo (Creativity) [2:34]
IX. Noch (Night) [3:34]
X. Smert’ (Death) [5:19]
XI. Bessmertie (Immortality) [3:34]
Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
Tre sonetti del Petrarca (1842 – 1846), S. 270° (1st version) [19:04]
Pace non trovo (Sonetto 104) [6:45]
Benedetto sia il giorno (Sonetto 47) [6:36]
I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi (Sonetto 123) [5:43]
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone), Ivari Ilja (piano)
rec. Moscow State Conservatory, Great Hall, 11-12, 15 July 2012, 1-3 September 2014
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
ONDINE ODE1277-2 [58:53]

Since his victory in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1989 Dmitri Hvorostovsky has had a busy international career, in opera houses as well as recital halls. He has recorded extensively and frequently turned – returned – to his native Russian song treasury. As far as I can see he has not tackled Shostakovich’s Michelangelo Suite before this. The cycle belongs among his very last compositions, first performed in Leningrad on 23 December 1974 by Evgeny Nesterenko and later orchestrated and premiered in Moscow on 12 October 1975, again by Nesterenko. Shostakovich regarded this as his last symphony. As far as I can understand, though, the version with piano should be Op. 145 and the orchestral version 145A – not vice versa as indicated on this disc.

The direct reason for this composition was that 1975 marked the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo’s birth and the inspiration was that Shostakovich heard Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten perform the latter’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (1940) in Moscow in 1966. The musical homage is however to Mussorgsky and his song-cycles and Boris Godunov, whose declamatory style Shostakovich adopts – but transforms into his own idiom. He arranges the songs in groups according to moods and subjects, thus corresponding to the movements of a symphony. The titles of the songs are not Michelangelo’s – they are Shostakovich’s, since the painter and sculptor had no titles of his own.

The opening song, Truth, is sparse and recessed, while Morning in sharp contrast is a lovely melody – with a dark accompaniment. In Love the mood changes again: the piano glitters and the vocal part is dramatic. Separation is an expressive love song – but the accompaniment is Spartan. "How will I ever have the nerve / without you, my beloved, to stay alive" are the opening words, expressing emptiness.

In song No. 5, Wrath, the anger is almost tactile. A dramatic outburst, after which the following two songs come as repose, for contemplation. In Creativity the piano pictures the hammering of the sculptor on hard stones, while the ninth song, Night, is a dialogue between Strozzi and Michelangelo. Death bells are heard in the penultimate song, and what comes after death? In this case Immortality. Prophetic words? Well, no. Michelangelo writes: "… I’m not really dead, though I’ve changed homes, / I live on in you, who see and mourn me now, / since one lover is transformed into the other…"

The choice of Three Sonnets of Petrarch by Franz Liszt as the counterpart to the Michelangelo sonnets is clever. Petrarch and the somewhat earlier Dante were the two most important poets writing in Italian a couple of centuries before Michelangelo. Dante has his own song in the Michelangelo suite. An interesting detail in the margin: Dante was a friend of Petrarch’s father.

The sonnets are among Liszt’s most impressive songs, though they are possibly better known in the versions for solo piano, included in his Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), Second Year. They were composed in 1842-46 when Liszt was in his early to mid-thirties and at the height of his career as a touring piano virtuoso. These songs are something deeper than the glittering showpieces that the enthusiastic masses demanded. The serious artist showed his paces already.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky was past fifty when he recorded these songs but there is little that tells us that this is not a young baritone in full bloom. The voice is still unscathed and the dark beauty of his tone is as glorious as it has been since he first appeared. His expressivity has deepened even and it is backed up by his excellent regular pianist Ivari Ilja who makes the most of these fascinating songs. With first class recording this is a disc to treasure and those unfamiliar with either or both groups of songs should take the opportunity to acquaint themselves with them in the company of a truly great baritone.

Göran Forsling



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