Georgy Sviridov mentioned plans to orchestrate Russia Cast Adrift as early as 1981-82, but his intentions were left unrealized until this new brilliant adaption for orchestra and Style of Five by Evgeny Stetsyuk. This new orchestration dramatically magnifies both the epic scope and profound philosophical meaning of the work. Not by chance did the composer define the genre of Russia Cast Adrift as a “vocal poem,” thus stressing its conceptual unity and connecting the work to his monumental Poem in Memory of Sergey Yesenin for tenor, chorus and orchestra. Written in 1956, this “Poem“ (as well as its close predecessor My Father is a Peasant (Moi otetz krestianin for tenor, baritone and piano, 1955) was crucial in bringing Yesenin’s name back onto the list of the “officially accepted” artists after decades of harsh ideological criticism by Soviet cultural authorities.
During his lifetime, Sviridov turned to Yesenin’s poetry a few more times: in a four-movement cantata, Wooden Russia (Dereviannay Rus’, 1964) for orchestra and chorus (it exists also in a later version as a song cycle for two voices and piano with the same title), and in Two Choruses (1967). Only poetry by Yesenin’s contemporary Alexander Blok (1880-1921) got more musical settings by Sviridov, who also set literature by Pushkin, Lermontov, Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Avetik Isaakyan, Mayakovsky and many others.
The composer was not only drawn to Yesenin’s verses – musical, sincere and Russian in soul and sound – but also to the tragic and rebellious personality of this village-born genius who committed suicide in 1925 at the age of thirty. There is a 1976 entry in Sviridov’s diary – not long before he created Russia Cast Adrift – about Yesenin and his poetry: ”… 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”.
Always perfectly attuned to language and poetry and thoughtful in his selections, Sviridov chose a few short poems for Russia Cast Adrift – along with some excerpts from Yesenin’s larger works – to build a philosophical narrative about the soul and fate of a poet and his beloved country. All were written between 1914 and 1920, during the most dramatic and turbulent period in modern Russian history: the years of World War One, the Bolshevik revolution and the devastating Civil War. Although Yesenin explored his favorite topics here – the beauty of Russian landscape, love for Mother Russia, Christian faith, loneliness and longing – they all seem to take on an especially dark tone.
The verses also overflow with religious symbolism: Jesus and other biblical figures appear, sad premonitions are felt, and cosmic fires burn. Moments of intimacy, lyricism and strong melancholy contrast with images of tragic destruction – but there are also evocations of hymn-like, epic, and triumphant grandeur. At the end, Russia – “My golden land,” as the poet calls it, watched over by God, is seen through the eyes of someone who loves it passionately and believes in its special destiny and in its survival in the eternal battle of good and evil.
Sviridov, whose songs were often a means of expressing his spiritual independence and inner resistance to Soviet officialdom, not only shared these sentiments; he also identified to some degree with the poet. Having been strongly influenced by church singing since childhood, he dedicated his entire creative life to music for voice – both in the choral and chamber genres, and incorporated many features of Russian folk and church music into his own organic musical language. In Russia Cast Adrift, he is at the peak of his mastery, bringing together the best qualities of his style: seemingly traditional yet recognizably original, laconic yet immensely rich, austere yet emotionally intense.
Sviridov is celebrated and admired in Russia, but remains relatively unknown beyond its borders. Dmitri Hvorostovsky has taken on the personal mission of making his music more widely known. This album is yet another vital and lasting contribution from Hvorostovsky – and it is as deep, personal and sincere as the music itself.