Dmitri Hvorostovsky / Evgeny Kissin - Barbican, 16 October 2008
Dmitri Hvorostovsky's Barbican programme tonight was the same one I heard him perform in Edinburgh a couple of months ago, all from the more distant corners of the Russian repertoire. A not insignificant change of pianist though, with Evgeny Kissin joining him in London. As they stood, bathing in the warm welcome with their blousy black shirts, cheesy grins and curious hairdos, only the presence of the piano indicated that this was a recital not a hairdressing competition.
The all-Tchaikovsky first half was frankly a bit of a disappointment. Hvorostovsky, though good, was not at his best. He looked and sounded anxious and challenged. Straining at the top, parched at the bottom, he approximated the most distant notes. He improved as he went on, but there was no question that this was not the standard we had seen in Edinburgh - though here too there was vigorous applause between all the songs.
Kissin, on the other hand, was a revelation. Often justly criticised for thumping, here he was a sensitive and accomodating partner. And needless to say, he breezed through the many technical challenges. I've long admired his Shostakovich, so perhaps it's the old cliche, Russians play Russian best.
The second half, as in Edinburgh, was shared between Medtner and Rachmaninov. Both demand much virtuoso pianism, a sort of river of shimmering semiquavers that the song line floats serenely above. Again Kissin impressed with his ease and sensitivity.
Hvorostovsky, meanwhile, was transformed, his full, rich, burnished tone back in place, as if the first half was just some bizarre aberration. I don't know, perhaps he was simply holding himself back, storing up ammo for the full second half attack. He moved more freely, he sang more openly, he hit every single note cleanly. And when he sang, we heard Goethe and Pushkin's wonderful poetry and could overlook Medtner's rather derivative settings. Pulling off a few miraculously-sustained final notes turned the audience into putty. And I know that's kind of a cheap trick, but that doesn't mean it's an easy one - it's gobsmackingly impressive in the flesh.
The first, something I didn't know and didn't quite catch, meant 'Sounds of the Night', and was more of the same. The second, Robert's aria from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, was the standout of the night, Hvorostovsky sounding totally at home in its simple, direct idiom.
I hadn't appreciated that poor Hvorostovsky was working on his birthday (46 today!) until he was presented with a bouquet and - a Barbican first I think - a birthday balloon.