Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Passione di Napoli
Songs by De Curtis, Valente, Di Capua, Cordiferro, Bixio, Capurro, Tosti, Falvo, Gambardella, Gastaldoni, Cottrau, and Cannio.
Dmitri Hvorostovksy, baritone/Philharmonia of Russia; Constantine Orbelian, cond.
 Delos DE 3290 F (DDD) TT: 58:33

Neapolitan songs have long seemed to be the exclusive province of Italian tenors. But in truth, scores of fine baritones from the past and present -- including Mattia Battistini, Titta Ruffo, Riccardo Stracciari, Giuseppe Valdengo, Tito Gobbi, and Renato Bruson -- have made lovely recordings of these beautiful, passionate melodies. And despite the fact that baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was born in Siberia, he too possesses the kind of warm, vibrant, and focused timbre that lends itself so well to the Italian repertoire. Indeed, as in the case of his great predecessor, Pavel Lisitsian, Italian opera has formed a major part Dmitri Hvorostovsky's career.

Unfortunately this new Delos release of Neapolitan songs does not represent Dmitri Hvorostovsky at his best. Recording sessions, which took place in late June 2001, do not find the baritone in optimal voice. The middle range displays its typical rich and lovely quality. However the lower part of the voice lacks authority and color, the upper register is often tight and forced.

In the booklet that accompanies this recording, Hvorostovsky notes that his greatest early influence in Neapolitan songs was Mario Lanza. Unfortunately it seems that the baritone took his cue from the worst efforts of the famous American tenor. Hvorostovsky bullies his way through much of the material, ignoring the plasticity of phrasing and dynamic shading that is at the heart of this music. Perhaps the baritone's precarious vocal estate compromised his interpretive choices. Hvorostovsky certainly isn't aided by the bloated orchestral accompaniments -- in the worst Hollywood tradition, and loudly performed by the Philharmonia of Russia and conductor Constantine Orbelian.

Stellar interpreters such as Giuseppe Valdengo and Tito Gobbi -- two artists with no greater vocal endowment than Hvorostovsky -- have demonstrated how seductive baritones can be in this repertoire. I believe that Dmitri Hvorostovsky is also capable of achieving far better results in Neapolitan song. On this occasion, it seemed that the Fates conspired against him. Had these renditions been part of a concert performance, they would have soon faded from memory. Unfortunately, recordings preserve such efforts forever.

The recorded sound has superb presence and definition. Delos has provided  texts and English translations of the songs, a rare occurrence in recordings of this material.

K.M. (Dec. 2001)