Over at the Royal Albert Hall, they had ‘Nessun Dorma,’ ‘Rule Britannia’ and a huge communal Mo-Bot (cringe) — here at the Wigmore, we had a much more rarefied evening of all-Russian music, although it’s fair to say that if sections of the audience had been required to perform a ‘Mo-Bot’ in honour of their silver-haired Siberian Elvis, they would have done so with gusto.
It’s all about the singing here, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky seldom fails to deliver; his is a truly great voice, thunderous in power yet capable of long-held pianissimi, and he knows exactly how to manage his audience. One might ask for a little more subtlety at times, but this isn’t exactly subtle music; rather, it is full-blown Romanticism and Russian gloom, all unrequited love and existential doubt. We were gently ushered in with ‘Child, thou art as beautiful as a flower’ which reassuringly sets Heine’s ‘Du bist wie eine Blume,’ but from then on we were in the fevered world of Lermontov, Minsky, A.K. Tolstoy and Shevchenko.
Hvrostovsky and Ivari Ilja share an exceptional partnership, wonderfully shown in ‘V moey dushe’ (Within my heart) where the voice warms with the sunshine of the first stanza and freezes with the last, and the piano not only echoes but becomes part of the contrasting emotions. ‘Zdes khorosho’ (How fair this spot) closed on a stunningly held final note, and ‘Siren’ (Lilacs) gave Ilja another chance to show that he has few peers when it comes to delicacy and supportiveness.
Even more than that is required for Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarotti; rightly performed as a cycle, without a break, these tempestuous songs are the perfect showcase for Hvrostovsky’s ferocious intensity and Ilja’s magisterial command. ‘Lyubov’ (Love) demonstrated both qualities to perfection, the final lines capturing the essence of Michelangelo’s poem, the voice rising to meet the composer’s rapt setting.
‘Bessmertiye’ (Immortality) is an extraordinary song, its will-o-the-wisp accompaniment as challenging to a pianist as its defiant statements are to a singer; both were heroically met, the final ‘nor am I touched by mortal decay’ a resounding climax. A vociferous audience demanded three encores — all Rachmaninov — and departed with the sense that if this opening night is anything to go by, it’s set to be a great Wigmore season for lovers of song.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org