In This Moonlit Night

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky; Musorgsky; Tanaeyev
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: In This Moonlit Night
WORKS: Tchaikovsky: Six Songs, Op. 73; Musorgsky: Songs and Dance of Death; Tanaeyev: All are Asleep, Op. 17/10; Minuet, Op. 26/9; Not the Wind from on high, Op. 17/5
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone), Ivari Ilja (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE12162

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The dark-silk smoothness of Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s tone doesn’t please everybody. One choleric critic damned a previous recital wholesale (and incidentally Russian song as such) for sounding too uniform. That’s self-evidently not the case here. Although Tchaikovsky’s Six Songs are rather unvarying, that’s mostly the composer’s doing. Hvorostovsky sings them with passionate expression, but the music follows Daniil Rathaus’s verses, almost constantly about self-pitying unrequited love, all too closely.

Taneyev, Tchaikovsky’s most formidable student and teacher of Scriabin and many others, is widely recorded, but his songs are still fairly rare. This selection, to various poets including Aleksey Tolstoy, ranges from exotic lyricism (Winter Path) to Minuet’s classical pastiche; Hvorostovsky’s elegant approach makes a good case for hearing more.

We enter a very different world, though, with the Songs and Dances of Death. Hvorostovsky’s two earlier recordings, under Valery Gergiev and Yuri Temirkanov, sounded just a touch underpowered against Shostakovich’s orchestration; but against the original piano accompaniment his command is absolute, from the mother’s terror over her fevered child and the eerie sensuality with which Death ‘seduces’ a consumptive girl, to the hollow jollity of the drunken peasant dancing in the snow and the final terrifying ‘Field-Marshal’ triumphing over the dead of all sides – with Ivari Ilja’s spirited playing, this is one of the finest performances I’ve heard, even alongside Gerald Finley’s.

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Michael Scott Rohan