Unfortunately, it is a  very sad day today: a very talented, kind, intelligent, charming and thoughtful opera singer left us, having lost the battle to cruel and merciless brain cancer. Knowing of his diagnosis,  Dmitri kept on fighting until the very last moment, by participating in various charity concerts and actions, helping others, performing, recording… It looks like his latest recording of Georgy Sviridov’s  “Russia Cast Adrift” became his final testament — a powerful orchestral song cycle from a 20th century Russian composer little known in the West. Here, we offer Robert Hugill’s review of the release in memoriam of the great Russian singer and performer Dmitri Hvorostovsky. 

Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky first recorded Georgy Sviridov’s song cycle Russia Cast Adrift in 1996, that recording was of the work’s original version for voice and piano. Now on this disc from Delos, Hvorostovsky returns to the cycle, this time in an orchestration by Evgeny Stetsyuk. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is joined by the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and theStyle of Five Ensemble, conducted by Constantine Orbelian.

Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) is a neo-romantic composer whose work received great acclaim in Russia but which is still relatively unknown in the West. Sviridov’s fondness for setting Russian romantic-era poets including Pushkin is perhaps significant in this, and the cycle on this disc continues this vein as it sets poetry by Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) all written during the period 1914-1920, the most dramatic and turbulent period in Russian history. Yesenin’s topics include the beauty of the Russian landscape, love for Mother Russia, Christian faith, loneliness and longing, all with an underlying dark tone which Sviridov’s music picks up on.

With its lyricism, powerful emotional tone and richly dark emotional depths, this is very much the style Sviridov’s music which was admired in Russia, as it expresses feelings for Russia and the Russian soul.

As a young singer Hvorostovsky knew Sviridov and not only performed Russia Cast Adrift, but also had works written for him by Sviridov.  By recording an orchestrated version of Russia Cast Adrift he attempts to realise the composer’s unrealised plans for an orchestral version of the cycle.

It is a strong, dark work. Sviridov’s style is richly lyrical with some powerful emotional moments and Hvorostovsky’s performance is fearless, giving us some stunning climaxes and finely sung moments. The style weaves together Russian chant, folk music and other influences into rich tapestry that does take on a life of its own. Evgeny Stetsyuk reflects this with his colourful orchestration, which includes a group of Russian folk instruments from the folk ensemble Style of Five. I did wonder whether a darker more expressionistic orchestration might have given the work a stronger tone.

But there is no denying the remarkable power and emotional pull of this music. Though there are eleven movements, Sviridov regarded it as a single expressive whole and Hvorostovky takes us on a powerful journey making the piece seem like a long monologue of a man contemplating the state of Russia. The words might date from 1914-1920, the music from 1977, but the sentiments expressed remain as powerful today.

The CD booklet includes a good background article along with English and transliterated texts (no Cyrillic). Even with a bonus track, the disc only lasts 36 minutes, and it seems a shame that some of Hvorostovsky’s early recordings of Sviridov could not have also been included.

The bonus track on the disc is the movement The Virgin in the City from Sviridov’s Petersburg, a vocal poem which provides a fine conclusion to a remarkable disc.

Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998), orchestrated Evgeny Stetsyuk – Russia Cast Adrift

Georgy Sviridov – The Virgin in the City (from Petersburg, a vocal poem)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)

St Petersburg State Philharmonic Orchestra

Style of Five Ensemble

Constantine Orbelian (conductor)

Recorded 15-20 July 2016, House of Radio, St Petersburg, Russia

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 1, 2017