Rachmaninov: Romances

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Romances
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone), Ivari Ilja (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1207-2

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One composer, one musical form, one singer… the danger here is uniformity, even monotony, especially with a dark-hued, reflective composer like Rachmaninov and a language like Russian. This might explain why previous Dmitri Hvorostovsky recitals have met with some remarkably extreme criticism, even condemnation of the whole of Russian song as sentimental or worse. Such extremism seems to reflect a poor understanding of Russian poetic and musical traditions, and this recital’s well placed to correct it.

There is a sentimental streak in many of these songs, but so there is in a great deal of Schubert. In fact, the verses Rachmaninov set display a wide range of moods, the more so as they span the core of his career, before and after his breakdown and revival. We shall rest, A Dream and the transcendent bitterness of They said offer ample contrast, and Rachmaninov reflects it. Russian doesn’t require or repay the Germanic, Fischer-Dieskau style of emphasis; but for all his famously silky tones and deep-brown vocal shading Hvorostovsky does shape the lines meaningfully, and his delivery suits these songs admirably, from the almost austere to the nostalgic, the passionate, and even, in It is time!, the grimly rousing.

Likewise, Ivari Ilja clearly relishes Rachmaninov’s richly textured accompaniments, including the extraordinary lyrical shift and sparkle of Spring Floods. Not everyone need respond to the ‘Russian soul’, of course; but for those who do, this is a fascinating recital – even if it’s best not listened to all in one go.

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Michael Scott Rohan