COMPOSERS: Dmitri Shostakovich,Franz Liszt
ALBUM TITLE: Liszt • Shostakovich
WORKS: Liszt: Sonetti del Petrarca; Shostakovich: Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone), Ivari Ilja (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Ondine ODE 1277-2
The ideal voice for Shostakovich’s Michelangelo Suite is the jet-black bass of Yevgeni Nesterenko, for whom the composer wrote this last song-symphony, and accompanied by the orchestration which followed the voice-and-piano original. But Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s baritone, still one of the great voices, can combine dark timbre with an emotional warmth to offset the granitic style; while pianist Ivari Ilja, although unable to mimic apocalyptic trumpets at the start or flickering harp at the end, conjures up all the rest with austere commitment.
There is recitative-like suppleness in ‘Mourning’ and ‘To the Exile’, and Hvorostovsky’s long-breathed, caressing phrases throughout. Deepest of all, as they must be, are the settings of the stone-carved ‘Night’ response – ‘as long as injury and shame endure, not to see or hear is a great boon to me’ – and the climactic meditation (in 1974, Shostakovich was indeed ‘certain of death, though not yet of its hour’). Ilja is as light in the final, unexpected innocence of a youthful melody as he is vividly hard-hitting in ‘Wrath’ and ‘Creativity’. The recording’s one drawback is more apparent in Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets – a voice too closely captured to let lyric lines breathe. Magical phrasing in the second song’s ‘benedette le voci’ isn’t quite compensation enough, for Hvorostovsky’s golden sound deserves more air around it.