We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Ivari Ilja
 Decked out in a knee-length jacket with sequined lapels and tossing his shoulder length white hair, Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky commands the stage like no other. It is impossible to take your eyes off this operatic superstar.  The audience went wild and offered so much applause between songs that someone was obliged to come out on stage before the second part began to request that applause be held until the end of the cycle of songs.  Did that matter?  Not a bit.  Not even a chorus of "shushers" could silence the hearty applause.

That being said, it was not until the encores, which Mr. Hvorostovsky called "Part three of the recital" that we were able to experience him as the artist we know from the operatic stage.  Part of the problem, as we see it, is that the songs he chose were of an intimate nature and perhaps unsuited to the vast size of Carnegie Hall.  But how else could his legion of fans be accommodated?

A different sort of problem was Mr. Hvorostovsky's use of the music stand which he glanced at frequently.  That longed for feeling of connection with the audience and connection with the material just wasn't there until "Part Three" when Mr. H. threw himself into Rachmaninoff's "In the Silence of the Night" with which he seemed to have a deep connection and for which he needed no music stand.  The unfortunately unidentified encores which followed were supremely lovely.  Mr. H. has a voice of burnished bronze that is well focused and sets the air to vibrating with ample overtones.  There is no denying his exquisite musicality.

As collaborative pianist, the Estonian Ivari Ilja merits every accolade he receives.  His playing was so astonishing in its subtleties that we were able to see the scenes depicted in our mind's eye.  Sergei Rachmaninoff composed a large number of songs in his youth and the eleven we heard last night gave a fine depiction of the Russian soul.  The languor heard in "In my soul", the passion heard in "Once again I am alone", the aggressive chords in "The raising of Lazarus" and the delicacy of "Lilacs" (our personal favorite) combined to give a picture of a soul capable of great joy and equally great despair.

The second half of the program comprised a song cycle entitled Petersburg by the 20th c. composer Georgy Sviridov.  How reassuring to hear music of our own era that is tonal and rhythmic.  We realize that other music lovers may disagree with us but these are qualities that we love, along with a singable melodic line.  Sviridov's harmonies have surely evolved beyond those of Rachmaninoff's Late Romanticism but there is nothing abrasive to the ear, although the poetry by Aleksandr Blok is often despairing.

Again, our attention was drawn to the evocative playing of Mr. Ilja.  The cycle depicts St. Petersburg, or perhaps the St. Petersburg of Mr. Blok's imagination.  Church bells can be heard in the beginning and at the end.  The songs offered Mr. H. and Mr. Ilja the opportunity for a great deal of dynamic variety, particularly in "The Golden Oar".  In "A Voice from the Chorus" Mr. H. seemed more connected with the despair than he had in much of the rest of the program.  In "I am nailed to a tavern counter" Mr. H. held the climactic note just long enough.  "Those born in obscure years" was unremittingly grim.  Our personal favorite was "The Bride" which tells the story of a widow in a funeral procession for her late husband.  One could speculate on the symbolism or just enjoy the music.  "Petersburg Song" permitted Mr. Ilja to convey the sound of an organ grinder, reminding us of "Der Leierman" by Schubert.  But the former has a happier ending, as did this recital when Mr. H. finally showed us the intense involvement that we want to hear from him.

(c) meche kroop

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