A packed out Koerner Hall just saw something half way between an art song recital and a revivalist meeting. To say that Mr. Hvorostovsky has a fan club would be a gross understatement. He was greeted by cheers, every song got prolonged applause (alas for those of us who prefer some continuity in a set), there were more flowers than at Princess Di’s funeral and about the only thing missing was that, mercifully, no underwear got thrown on stage. Oh, and, despite the requests to the contrary, the whole show was “artfully” lit by the constant flashes from phone cameras. He also sang some songs. In fact it was a nicely chosen mixture of Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Tchaikovsky and Strauss. Full details are here.
It was good too. There were few, if any, signs that the guy had been suffering serious health problems. The voice is quite beautiful though, perhaps surprisingly for a Russian, it seems freer and easier in its higher register than down low where it maybe gets a bit gravelly. It’s powerful and operatic too and one got the feeling that an art song recital with piano is rather harder for Mr. Hvorostovsky than singing with a full orchestra. It’s not that he can’t be subtle. He demonstrated considerable restraint, for example, in Strauss’ Morgen but I think he was wise to choose the Strauss, which seems to allow a more overtly emotional approach than, say, Schubert, for the German part of the program.
The Russian songs were all unfamiliar to me and, although three different composers were involved, they seemed to share common characteristics. For a start they were surprisingly bright and cheerful. “Death” doesn’t appear once in fifteen songs which must be some kind of record. They are all also mostly fairly straightforward melodically and structurally with very few repeats and few opportunities to show off. What made for a really good performance here was the clarity of Hvorostovsky’s diction; I could follow along easily in the transliteration, allied to the tonal quality of the voice. It was almost like listening to folk song on steroids. Ivari Ilya’s sensitive accompaniment, sadly drowned out by premature applause on a couple of occasions, contributed much to the overall effect.
The Strauss is an “artier” beast and it was also very good. It’s nice to have a chance to hear these songs sung by male voice. I liked his interpretations. I’ve mentioned the restraint of Morgen and it contrasted with a more overtly (and entirely appropriately) emotional approach to, say, Zueignung. His German diction, a few odd vowels aside, was also distinctly good which helped. All in all, a good complement to the Russian material.
There were a couple of encores; one a capella, but I have no idea what they were. There was some banter going on with the audience close to the stage but I couldn’t hear it and it was probably in Russian anyway. As with the rest of the program there were no introductions.
If this program comes your way, it’s worth seeing. The Russian songs aren’t ones one hears very often and Hvostorovsky and Ilya are pretty classy interpreters of this rep. That said, I still think I’d rather see the man on an opera stage than in a recital hall. Also, as a grumpy old curmudgeon, I could have used a little more respect from the audience for the usual proprieties of an art song recital.