Edinburgh Festival: Dmitri Hvorostovsky / Ivari Ilja - Usher Hall, 9 August 2008
Tchaikovsky Ochevo?( Why?,Op 6 No 5), Lubov mertvetza (The Love of a Dead Man, Op 34 No 5), yesli b ty mogla (Ah, If only you could for one moment, Op 38 No 4), Na nivy zhjoltye… (On the Golden cornfields, Op 57 No 2)
Pimpinella, Op 38 No 6, Skazi o chem. v teni vetvei (Tell me, what’s in the shade of the branches, Op 57 No 1), Zabyt tak skoro? (to forget so soon?), Sred’ shumnogo bala (In the Midst of the Ball, Op 38 No 3), Serenade O ditja, Op 63 No 6, Don Juan’s Serenade, Op 38 No 1
Nikolai Medtner - Ja perezhil svoi zhelania (Gone are My Heart’s Desires, Op 3 No 2), Mechtatelju (To a Dreamer, Op 32 No 6), Schastlivoe plavanie (Prosperous Voyage, Op 15 No 8), Nochnaja pesn strannika (The Wanderer’s Night Song, Op 6 No 1), Zimnij vecher (Winter’s Evening, Op 13 No 1)
Rachmaninov - Pora (It is Time, Op 14 No 12), Ne ver’ moi drug (Believe me not, Friend, Op 14 No 7) , Ja byl u nei (I was with her, Op 14 No 4), My otdokhnjom (Let us rest, Op 26 No 3), Vesennie vody (Spring Waters, Op 14 No 11)
Back to Pat Benatar's wardrobe go the notorious black leather pants Dmitri Hvorostovsky has sported on recent tours. But Mr Showbiz (Siberian branch) is not a man to jade the eyeballs with a penguin suit. Tonight the interval remarks were provoked by a black puffy granny blouse (no! is traditional shirt of Russian people!) tucked it into functional matching trousers.
The sombre wardrobe echoed the programme's Russian gloom. Why has the glorious rose wilted in the spring? asked the first song, Ochevo. Covered by the cold ground I lie began the second. O if you could just for a single moment forget your sadness tried the third - but couldn't.
There's an vein of despair throughout Tchaikovsky's work and these songs which filled the first half get right to its heart. Hvorostovsky was able to tap straight into it, painting his words in many shades of black, but resisting any temptation to wallow or indulge himself in theatrics.
Enthusiastic applause after every song stemmed the relentless misery (hay Usher Hall, how about replacing the No Photography sign with a No Clapping F***ers? And sling in a Turn Your F***ing Phone Off while you're at it). But rather than resenting this vulgar intrusion, Hvorostovsky seemed happy to bask in the warmth of the audience response with a ready smile.
In the middle of the gloom came a bit of an oddity - Pimpinella - Tchaikovsky's transcription of a cheery folk tune and sung in Italian. Hvorostovsky sang throughout from memory, but here he needed to grab the music from his pianist first for a quick refresher. There wasn't room for any Verdi on the programme tonight, but this bouncy tune provided a reminder of Hvorostovsky's skills in that corner as he relished the long open vowels so scarce amidst the Russian language's gobfuls of consonants.
Tchaikovsky's florid pianistic underpinnings provide more garnish than backbone to his luxuriant melodies. I think that's why his songs lack the intensity of the German lieder repertoire. The pain and heartache of the texts is always battling the gorgeous tunes and the dazzling virtuosity rippling away beneath. Hvorostovsky got the balance right and Ivari Ilja proved the perfect accompanist, coupling technical ease with restraint and taste. I can't think of another pair who have quite such a harmonious professional marriage.
The second half's songs by Rachmaninov and his contemporary Medtner were less familiar, but in the same Russian-romantic idiom. Though even more of a test for teh piano skillz of Mr Ilja, the raw material ultimately lacked the invention and durability of the first half's offerings.
Perhaps that was why Hvorostovsky chose to perk up Medtner's settings of Goethe's Glückliche Fahrt and Wandrers Nachtlied with the infinitely-sustained final notes he's famous for. What top C's are to Juan Diego Flórez, big breaths are to Dmitri Hvorostovsky. It's the length that counts, and we love him for it. Ever attentive to the mood of the audience - he's not one of those singers who retreats into himself - he obliged with a couple more big'uns towards the end. How cheap, how vulgar, how wonderful. Only a singer as technically assured and expressively controlled as Hvorostovsky can get away with this sort of showmanship without diminishing the emotional impact of what's preceded it.
He escaped after just two encores, Rachmaninov's In the Silence of the Night and a passionately camp Neapolitan number.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky repeats this programme with Evgeny Kissin at the Barbican on 16 October - not to be missed.