Heroes and Villains

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Baritone arias from Russian, French, Italian, and German Operas
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone); Philharmonia of Russia/Constantine Orbelian

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CATALOGUE NO: DE 3365

Despite his distinguished international career, most British listeners will still remember Dmitri Hvorostovsky beating Bryn Terfel as Cardiff Singer of the World. Since then, his silken baritone has grown and darkened without losing its sheen, and this wide-ranging recital suggests some intriguing possibilities for roles to come.

In the Russian repertoire he’s naturally at home, as an intense, self-doubting Prince Igor and moody Shaklovity, lamenting Russia’s chaos; for Boris, although deeply felt, he still sounds rather too light. Highly impressive, though, are the rarer Rubinstein pieces, Lermontov’s dandified Demon sung with almost alarmingly seductive power and creamy legato. 

But the real revelation comes from his non-Russian selection – Wagner’s ‘Abendstern’, of which he makes something much darker and less sentimental than usual, yet profoundly moving, in excellent German and with a rock-firm tone that disgraces most rivals.

This would bring any audience to its feet. So would most of the Italian pieces, most notably Giordano’s disillusioned revolutionary and the sardonic Pagliacci prologue, although Scarpia could use a better Te Deum background.

Less successful are the French arias, chiefly because his accent is surprisingly unconvincing, stiff and riddled with Russian nasals; and in the ‘Toreador’s Song’, for example, he tends to bark the bravura verses without shifting gear sufficiently for the refrain.

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The Hamlet drinking song is much better. Orbelian is not always the most idiomatic interpreter, the choir and supporting soloists less so, and the recording often obtrusively echo-ridden; but Hvorostovsky’s singing is the point here, and generally it’s a knockout. Michael Scott Rohan