Dmitri Hvorostovsky / Ivari Ilja - Wigmore Hall, 11 June 2010
Tchaikovsky Again, as before, alone, The nightingale, The heroic deed, I opened the window, Don Juan’s serenade
Rachmaninov The dream, She is as lovely as the noon, Sing not to me, beautiful maiden, Oh no, I beg you, forsake me not
Tchaikovsky Reconciliation, A tear trembles, None but the lonely heart, The fearful moment
Rachmaninov When yesterday we met, In the silence of the secret night, He took all from me, Christ is risen
Encores: Tchaikovsky Sred’ shumnogo bala (In the Midst of the Ball), Serenade, Rachmaninov Ja byl u nei (I was with her) (I'm not 100% sure of these, so if you know better, please let me know)
It’s now twenty years since Dmitri Hvorostovsky made his Wigmore Hall debut. This recital, dedicated to the recently-deceased mezzo Irina Arkhipova, followed the same programme as that first one (according to his record company at least). But the mood was hardly celebratory. Bottom-of-the-vodka-bottle Russian melancholy underlay every one of his Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov songs.
By his usual standards, it was unusually gloomy programming. These days, if he’s not playing out-and-out pop, Hvorostovsky usually leavens his big-hall programmes with lighter material, lifting spirits by shamelessly playing to the crowd. Nose-to-nose with a discriminating audience in the shoebox Wigmore, his inner showman was at a disadvantage, reduced to the odd winning grin between songs. Acknowedging the seriousness of the enterprise, gone were the eye-wateringly tight pants and loltastic girlie blouses, in their place the serious recitalist’s bow tie and tuxedo.
Perhaps because Wigmore tickets are sold to annual members first and casual buyers later, there weren’t the usual crowds of cheering fans packing the front rows either. The house manager asked the audience at the start not to applaud between songs, but the request was unnecessary. The temple of song was barely sullied even by the usual coughing - the atmosphere was one of pindrop reverence. So perhaps it was not that surprising that Hvorostovsky seemed, if not exactly nervous, then perhaps more tentative than I’ve heard him before.
No problems with the voice. The effort he puts into his very top notes becomes more apparent as the years pass, but the rest is pure chocolatey goodness. His ability to unfurl a line is second to none but it’s never at the expense of text. Unlike most singers of Russian, even native ones, his diction is clear enough for even a lousy speaker like me to follow. Words are carefully shaped and weighted, yet without exaggeration. And the technique is staggering. A perfect messa di voce completed She is as lovely as the noon. In the silence of the secret night ended with a note sustained not quite to the point of vulgarity, but enough to draw a gasp from the audience. And in Ivari Ilja he had the ideal partner, with the skill to illuminate Rachmaninov’s accompaniments and an exquisite sense of balance.
Yet there was something missing, and it became apparent only in the second of his three encores, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade. Every note in a recital must of course be carefully planned. But it should sound utterly spontaneous, and this is where Hvorostovsky’s weakness lay. Only with this penultimate number, an hour and half after he started, did Hvorostovsky finally let go. For all his technical and communicative gifts, it was the first time all night he’d sounded completely inside a song.
Hvorostovsky's scrupulously-maintained Facebook page includes a brief video of the rehearsal.