Various: Neapolitan songs

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ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Passione Di Napoli
WORKS: Neapolitan songs
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone); Philharmonia of Russia/Constantine Orbelian
From the faux-pop videos made to support his early Tchaikovsky recital discs to the massed balalaikas of his first Russian folksong albums, by way of some fairly crass marketing strategies (the recent retrospective From Russia with Love), Hvorostovsky has never been afraid to flirt with crossover. This time he has swapped balalaikas for mandolins and tambourines, Slavonic soulfulness for Italian passione, in a programme of 17 varyingly familiar Neapolitan songs, whose lurid Technicolor orchestrations evoke Hollywood-style Italianness at its most quasi-operatic and overblown. The Philharmonia of Russia, under the direction of the US-born conductor Constantine Orbelian (whose last disc was entitled ‘Vodka and Caviar’; enough said) give it their all. The brass swells, the strings shimmer and the percussion sparkles, evoking some unexpectedly cosmopolitan inflections, including what sound like castanets on ‘A Marechiare’, the tango rhythm that underpins the inevitable ‘O sole mio’. While Hvorostovsky himself is on top form, his miraculously burnished voice seamlessly modulated, his phrasing unselfconsciously expressive, shamelessly ardent and thrillingly dramatic. Even his Italian vowels sound authentic. The effect may be unsubtle and the style satiatingly schmaltzy and unsubtle, but in the right context, to paraphrase Mae West, sometimes too much of a good thing can be wonderful.


Claire Wrathall