Russia Cast Adrift once again reunites Dmitri Hvorostovsky with the music of one of his most admired composers, Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998). Personally knowing Sviridov, working with him and performing his music, was, in the singer’s words, “an enormous epoch” in his life.
They first met in 1994: a 79-year-old icon of Russian music and a rising international star singer, born almost half a century later. The occasion was Dmitri’s performance of Russia Cast Adrift (Otchalivshaya Rus) in Moscow. Written for tenor and piano in 1977 on verses by Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925), it was known in Russia, most notably due to performances by the great mezzo-soprano Elena Obraztsova. For Hvorostovsky the performer, however, it was his first encounter with Sviridov’s songs.
The composer, usually strict and demanding (especially when it came to performances of his own music), took a liking to Dmitri right away and enthusiastically approved his interpretation. A few days later, Hvorostovsky and pianist Michail Arkadiev performed Russia Cast Adrift at the Los Angeles Opera to a standing ovation, and then to great acclaim around the world. Their recording of it on Philips was released in 1996.
As Hvorostovsky later recalled, “Sviridov was an austere man, but to me he was kind, like a great father. He was a man of outstanding intellect and humor, and his knowledge and admiration for Russian poetry was enormous. I will remember him all my life.” They became friends, and Sviridov wrote Petersburg (1995) for Dmitri: nine songs on verses by Alexander Blok. That composition was later recorded by Delos together with Sviridov’s first masterpiece, Six Romances on verses by Alexander Pushkin (1935) – and with Russia Cast Adrift, all three works became an important part of Hvorostovsky’s concert repertoire.
“Working on Sviridov’s music was a very important educational experience for me,” said Hvorostovsky. “At first glance, his songs seem simple. However, they demand the deepest emotional involvement. It is not enough to just sing them beautifully. From the first note you are immersed in his whole world. The music colors each word with pain and unspeakable purity … it tortures you emotionally. I always go through very strong, very dramatic inner conflicts while performing it.”
Fearlessly, Hvorostovsky has now decided to return to Sviridov’s music, specifically to Russia Cast Adrift. He embarked again on this emotionally charged journey not only because of his experiences over the twenty-plus years since his first recording; one that had enormously enriched both his expressive palette and musical perspective.
He also did it to realize Sviridov’s unfulfilled wish to orchestrate Russia Cast Adrift. The composer had mentioned his plans for orchestration in his diary as early as in 1981-82 – but his intentions were left unrealized.
The new version offered here – brilliantly adapted by Evgeny Stetsyuk for orchestra and Style of Five, an ensemble of Russian folk instruments, and conducted by Constantine Orbelian – closely reflects the sonic effects and colors of the vividly depictive piano score. Bells ring, winds blow, waves “whisper,” geese cry, wings flap, and the magnificent stillness of expansive Russian landscapes alternates with sweeping flights through time and space.