Russia Cast Adrift
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Style of Five Ensemble
Constantine Orbelian, conductor
«Everything is deep, from the soul. Everything is simplicity itself; everything is truth, not a shadow of pretentiousness or self-adoration… He gave his heart to people. He will live on until the last Russian is alive on earth».
With these words, noted in his diary, composer Georgy Sviridov referred to the poetry of Sergei Yesenin, the poet whose verses, written between 1914 and 1920, inspired him Russia Cast Adrift (Otchalivshaya Rus’, 1977). Russia Cast Adrift, a work reflecting Sviridov’s interest towards religious, philosophy and visionary, was originally written for tenor and piano, but it happens that the singers that made it famous were a mezzosoprano, Elena Obraztsova, and in more recent times a baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
Hvorostovsky’s association with Sviridov’s music began in the Nineties, when he not only recorded the piano version of Russia Cast Adrift with pianist Michail Arkadiev (in 1996), but had the chance to work closely with Sviridov in the last years of the composer’s life, to the point that Sviridov composed for him the vocal poem Petersburg (one piece is recorded in the present album as bonus track).
After twenty years from the first recording of Russia Cast Adrift, Hvorostovsky comes back to the cycle and records it in the new orchestral version, reviving in the West the attention to Sviridov’s works. It is in fact to be noticed that, despite Sviridov is a celebrity in Russia and is considered one of the most influential composer of the 20th century, he is not frequently performed in the West, where he is known by the wide public only thanks to Hvorostovsky’s recordings.
The new orchestral version, written by Evgeny Stetsyuk, finally fulfilled Sviridov’s wish to arrange Russia Cast Adrift for orchestra, an intention the composer had already in the early Eighties, but that unfortunately he never carried out. This is the world premiere recording of this version.
For those who have already familiarity with Hvorostovsky’s previous recording of Russia Cast Adrift, the new one is not a real surprise, despite his voice is smoother and there is a greater dramatic tension. A curious thing that came to the mind of the author of this post is that the dark colours with which Yesenin describes his dearest topics – colours that did not escape Sviridov’s attention – and that are taken by Hvorostovsky as hints for his interpretation, resemble in a certain sense those of the cycles of Russian war songs that Hvorostovsky recorded and performed many times.
The inspiration and aims of those songs and Russia Cast Adrift is different, of course, and maybe I was too much influenced by the fact that Yesenin verses have been written in dramatic years for Russia (the years of the First World War, of the Revolution and of the Civil War), in an environment similar to that of twenty years later, but nonetheless I have the impression of a parallel between the works, especially as the orchestral version seems to accentuate exactly the sense of menace that is present in some of those war songs.
Russian language is difficult to understand by those who do not know it, so that one of the merits of Hvorostovsky’s singing is to help the Western listener in this difficult task. Following the Russian tradition that gives great attention to words, a tradition of which the outstanding representative in the last century was no less a person than Feodor Chaliapin, Hvorostovsky’s flawless diction and attention to the text, together with the more strictly musical quality constituted by the velvet of his voice, make possible to guess and even to understand everything he sings even to someone that has never heard a word of Russian before.
This happens with remarkable clearness in the third piece, Open Before Me, O My Guardian Angel, when Hvorostovsky sings about the “struggling and flailing, tugging at his tight halter”, where the idea of fighting is so finely expressed, or in the stillness and uncertainty of the Silver Path, or again in the pain expressed in Where Are You, O My Father’s House. The climax is anyway represented by It Sounds, It Sounds, the Fateful Trumpet!, where it is easy to think about the trumpet of the Last Judgement. While the orchestra stresses the doom, Hvorostovsky’s voice rises to express fear and horror, but also, in the last verse, a stir of impotent anger. Only in the last piece it is possible to hear a sincere expression of joy and pride, after an introduction (Oh, I believe, I believe in happiness!) necessary to smooth the shift to new feelings.
The last piece of the album is taken from the vocal cycle Petersburg, The Virgin In the City, and it is of high dramatic effect.
If it is true that the language of music is universal, Hvorostovsky proves it in Russia Cast Adrift.