By Lawrence Budmen

The formidable baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to Miami on Tuesday at the Jackie Gleason Theater in a program that included moving and powerful Russian crossover songs from World War II. This extravaganza (which was recorded for future broadcast on National Public Radio) featured Constantine Orbelian conducting the excellent Philharmonia of Russia and the folk music ensemble Style of Five. The sheer joy of artists giving their best was palpable. 

Hvorostovsky’s voice is simply glorious. His rich, darkly burnished sound extends downward to a lower register that straddles basso territory. Hvorostovsky’s high tones are exciting and the ease of his vocal production is a joy to hear. 

The concert’s first half was devoted to music from Russian operas rarely heard in the West. Hvorostovsky’s beautiful, effortless legato was thrilling in the lyrical cavatina from Rachmaninoff’s Aleko. In two excerpts from Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon Hvorostovsky’s cyclorama of vocal colors emphasized the music’s sinister undercurrent. A deeply emotional performance of an aria from Borodin’s Prince Igor was a model of great baritonal vocalism. 

Orbelian was a deft, supple accompanist. He opened the concert with a vigorous reading of the Overture to Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla (with especially rich toned playing from the cellos). An evocative, sensitively shaped, mesmerizing account of the quasi-impressionistic Prelude to Mussorgsky’s Khovanschina featured characterful wind playing by typically reedy Russian oboes and clarinets. The Waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade was a joyous fest a la Russe. 

After intermission Hvorostovsky turned to Russian songs from the war years. In this sentimental, vernacular material the baritone adopted a more intimate approach. He sang with the unforced ease of a first rate pop singer. Dark is the Night was a lovely ballad sung with hypnotic fervor. Mark Fradkin’s pensively elegant Unexpected Waltz was a delightful discovery. Hvorostovsky’s mellifluous vocalism did this gem proud. Yan Frenkel’s moving Cranes was sung with heartfelt passion and artful simplicity of utterance. The balalaikas of Style of Five added authentic nostalgia to the lush orchestral arrangements.

After repeated standing ovations from an audience peppered with his countrymen (and several bouquets from adoring female fans) Hvorostovsky offered impassioned versions of the popular Moscow Nights and an eternal Russian favorite Dark Eyes – the work of a superb singer and a great crossover artist. 

Copyright Miami Herald


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