Ever since "Dark Eyes", one of the first albums of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, came out, I've been wishing for the baritone to record more Russian romances. Looks like Delos is more committed to preserving this magnificent voice on record more than Philips did. After all, "Dark Eyes" had a lot of orchestral music, though wonderfully performed by Ossipov orchestra, it effectively reduced the sang material by some about 15 minutes or so. This is certainly not the case here. Well oven an hour of excellent singing is recorded (close-miked) with no interruptions. The songs themselves are the ones most often performed as encored by Russian singers. While baritones or basses have the strongest claim to them, most likely stemming from a long Russian tradidion of low male voice solo, tenors and even mezzo-sopranos have performed some of those to great acclaim.
The absolute hardest thing about performing these songs is not to make them sound sappy, vulgar, or over-done. Of all Russian singers who dealt with this material, I most often think of bass Boris Shtokolov, who sang them with utmost care. Dmitri does just that here. His care for the texts is what strikes me first while listening to "I Met You", a reflective serenade to love long lost. While all songs are spectacularly presented, I would like to mention "Misty Morning" and "I loved you". Like the title song, they are both filled with gentle melancholy, and sang with great tenderness and feeling. Some high-energy items, such as "Troika" seem just a little out of place, but the voice is a sheer pleasure to listen to. In "Oh, Could I in Song Tell My Sorrow", there's a strange change from traditional "your heart would break" to "my heart would break". I am not sure as to why this was done, particularly since the Cyrillic texts are absent.
In liner notes, Hvorostovsky explains the dedication of this album to his father, a chemical engineer, who managed to convey his love for the classical music and Russian romances to his son. I think all fathers need to learn from this man. Wondrous results stem from right upbringing!
The only minor quibble I have is the cover picture. It seems like the producers wanted to target exclusively the female part of the audience by using lots of shades of red color and lots of subdued candlelight. Well, I am sure there are lots of Dmitri's fans among men, particularly those of us who study voice, so I wish Delos would not make the cover so extravagant.
The engineering of this album, though, is very appropriate. The voice is placed well above orchestra (conducted with perfection by Constantine Orbelian) and each word is clearly heard. Together with Verdi Arias recording this shows that Delos engineers are fully capable of capturing the voice of this size and beauty well on record, something I doubted when listening to an otherwise lovely album of Neapolitan Songs.
I am sure non-Russian speakers will enjoy this CD just as much as Russians. After all, we all feel the same, and Dmitri's exceptional talent just makes it easier to communicate across cultural barriers.