Verdi: Arias and scenes from Otello, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Ernani, Un ballo in maschera, Il trovatore,

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Arias and scenes from Otello, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Ernani, Un ballo in maschera, Il trovatore,
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone), Alexander Vinogradov (bass), Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor); Spiritual Revival Choir of Russia, Philharmonia of Russia/Mario Bernardi
Hvorostovsky’s warm, mahogany baritone has lost little, if any, of its beauty. And his cultivated, long-breathed phrasing and old-fashioned care for legato remain as welcome as ever. His Verdian calling card, Rodrigo in Don Carlos, is not represented here. But Hvorostovsky’s mastery of the lyrical line is heard to eloquent effect in Nabucco’s prayer, nobly shaped to its climax, and the aria from Ernani in which Don Carlo, King of Spain, sombrely reflects on his misspent youth. I was less sure about his Rigoletto, the most recent addition to his Verdi repertoire. While the firm, burnished tone gives pleasure, Hvorostovsky’s characterisation is too generalised, understating the bitterness and self-loathing of ‘Pari siamo’ and the desperation of ‘Cortigiani’. The suspicion remains that the part is a size too heavy for him. Nor is the Siberian baritone a natural for Iago or the gleefully malevolent Francesco in I masnadieri: despite good intentions, he lacks the incisive edge and the razor-sharp verbal response to penetrate to the characters’ evil heart. ‘Il balen’ from Il trovatore is more obviously congenial territory, though for all his elegance of line, Hvorostovsky’s performance here struck me as too unvaried in dynamics (which tend to hover around mezzo-forte) and expression. Listening ‘blind’ you’d be hard-pushed to tell that this was an ecstatic declaration of love. There is more involvement in, say, Renato’s two arias from Un ballo in maschera (a real nostalgic tenderness in the second part of ‘Eri tu’) and the scena for the dishonoured and tormented Stankar in Stiffelio. Plenty for Hvorostovsky fans to savour here, then, even if the baritone is consistently happier in lyric rather than dramatic mode. The Russian orchestra under Mario Bernardi accompany alertly enough, though they are too resonantly recorded for ideal clarity. Richard Wigmore