I stepped out of my usual rut last night, in the sense that instead of German art songs, I went to a recital of (mostly) Russian art songs by baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. I am pleased to report that I can now reliably repeat his last name, because I took care to look at the program so as not to be caught out on such an elementary item – earlier, even having heard him once at the Met before, I would have been able to say it started with H, ended with -sky and that there was Russian in the middle, but that would have been about the limit. So. Hvorostovsky.
There were four sets of songs, by Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Strauss. (Is it a rule now, that every recital I go to has to involve someone singing “Morgen”? Every single time? I am officially declaring a moratorium on “Morgan” until further notice. Also, every time I hear “Befreit,” the line “Oh, Glück!” makes me think “Hey, I bet you could make a joke about Gluck! Christoph Willibald (Willibald! this material writes itself, doesn’t it!) Gluck! Even though I know the umlaut makes a difference and it is not the same at all!” And sometimes as a result of this train of thought I find I have missed a line or two of the song attempting to come up with a really good Gluck joke that somehow always fails to materialize.)
The Russian material was most interesting to me, because I had never heard any of it before, and there is something to be said for that. Hvorostovsky’s interpretations of the Strauss songs seemed labored to me, but the two encores, both in Russian, one with piano and one solo, were probably the highlight of the show. The last one, in particular – I have no idea what the song was, but as we all floated down the stairs Russian Ark style after the show, I requested the few CDs of Hvorostovsky’s that the Queens library has. He’s in his 50s now, and I’m curious to hear what he sounded like when a little younger.
Also, on the subject of art songs. I am listening right now to Miah Persson’s earliest CD, of Scandinavian songs. (It’s called “Soul and Landscape.”) The whole recital has a cool, shimmery beauty that I didn’t quite clock the first time I heard it, but I get it now. I understand next to none of the texts, but I am not bothered by this.
Finally, only distantly related to the above: I went to a concert on Sunday that, like the one I heard this evening, was both something familiar and something new. Mitsuko Uchida performed two of Mozart’s piano concertos with the Cleveland Symphony, and the symphony performed one of Mozart’s symphonies on its own. I do mean on its own, as in both cases, there was no separate conductor. The symphony was led by the concertmaster, and for the two concertos, Uchida herself directed from the piano. (The lid of the piano had been removed so that she could see all the musicians and they could see her.) I enjoyed this immensely – in addition to the music itself, seeing her combine conducing and performing was really cool.