More original than your average compilation
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 03/29/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There is a Russian bias to this release, not only in the selection of arias but also in the singers chosen to perform them - testimony to the quality of the voices which continue to emerge from Eastern Europe. Towering above all the contributors here are the twin peaks of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who anchors the recital with four items, and Ewa Podles who dominates by virtue of her astounding vocal virtuosity in two arias: Konchakovna's Cavatina from Borodin's "Prince Igor" and "Venti turbini" from Handel's "Rinaldo". In total, we hear seven Russian singers, three American sopranos and the Polish Podles in a compilation providing a welcome change from the hackneyed mainstream Italian repertoire; indeed some items are definite rarities. To compound the Russian flavour, the majority of the accompaniments are by Russian orchestras mostly directed by the American conductor Constantine Orbelian, born of Russian and Armenian émigré parents. He conducts in careful, slightly anonymous style which is perhaps calculated not to detract from the élan of his starry soloists. This is not, however, really a gala performance; it is rather a selection of fifteen arias drawn from Delos recordings over the last twenty years. Irritatingly, no recording dates are supplied yet Delos' concern for detail does extend to providing a libretto.
The first voice one hears is Hvorostovsky in Tonio's Prologue from "I Pagliacci"; immediately striking is the burnished tone, immaculate intonation and keen focus of his sturdy baritone. Never large, the voice nonetheless has real presence, without quite the Italianate ring at the top of the ideal Verdi/verismo baritone. It is clear that in the twenty years since he won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, he has looked after his instrument and it has acquired more darkness and resonance. He is really in his element in Yeletsky's aria (Track 4), competing with the likes of Lisitsian, Mazurok and Georg Ots in smooth intensity of utterance. There is real venom and passion, too, in the extended excerpt from "Il Trovatore"; he captures Di Luna's tortured obsession beautifully. One little tic here I found distracting: exceptionally audible, gasping intakes of breath, presumably done for emotive effect - but almost comically exaggerated. I hope that does not become a habit. I am less enthusiastic, too, about the concluding item: "Core 'ngrato" from his complete recital of Neapolitan songs. Not only does Hvorostovsky "tear a passion to tatters" but the orchestral arrangement is simply tasteless; it's all swirling strings, soupy rallentandi and fluty noodlings, recorded in a bathroom acoustic. The effect is to detract from the plaintive despair of the song - but what a great top A flat Hvorostovsky plants on us! He is prevented from having a monopoly on great baritone singing by Vassily Gerello's impassioned account of Aleko's Cavatina.
As has been remarked many times, Podles is simply a "force of nature"; she displays the power, flexibility and versatility of her amazing voice in two arias which could hardly be more different. The Borodin, taken dangerously slow, is wonderfully exotic and mysterious, while the Handel coloratura showstopper allows her to deploy the full two and a half octave range of her glorious, dark-hued voice, from a booming low F up to a gleaming top C. No aspirates in the runs, no fudging the notes - the only imperfection is that little lisp.
I am also impressed by the lustrous of Marina Domashenko, who tackles that belter of an mezzo showpiece "Acerba voluttà" from "Adriana Lecouvreur"; she sails up to a stunning top A and exhibits wonderful breath control by sustaining a long F at the close of the aria. She also shines in the extended excerpt from the rarely heard "Rafaello" by Arensky, where she is worthily partnered by the velvet voiced Tatiana Pavlovskaya. Two smoky, sensuous voices entwine in duet and, as a bonus, we get to hear the fine voice of up-and-coming lyric tenor Vsevolod Grivnov caressing the Street-singer's song - but he needs to work on his Italian vowels.
The vibrant soprano Olga Guryakova is new to me but she is clearly a major talent. Similarly, I had not previously encountered Daniil Shtoda's very Russian sounding tenor, attractively open-throated apart from the slightly constricted top. A young Renée Fleming contributes the Villa-Lobos aria, whose Latin rhythms and Portuguese text are somewhat incongruous here but ravishingly sung. We are reminded of what was lost by her early passing in Arleen Augér's precise, poignant and crystalline account of the "The Prince" from Handel's "Alexander's Feast" - the earliest recording here. The third of the American sopranos is Alessandra Marc, who sings Turandot's "In questa reggia" commandingly, the glottal catch in her voice reminiscent of the great Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer - though I felt that Andrew Litton could have urged the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to greater momentum and tension; it's a little staid, as is much of the orchestral playing on this disc, regardless of conductor.
In raiding its archives to compile this disc, Delos has done very much more than cobble together random items; this is both a fitting tribute to its founder and a collection to which the discriminating collector can return with pleasure to encounter afresh some unusual items, sung by great voices in lovely, spacious sound.