Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Baritone
Ivari Ilja, Piano
DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY, Baritone
IVARI ILJA, Piano
Otchego? (Why?), Op. 6, No. 5
Lubov mertvetza (The Love of a Dead Man), Op. 38, No. 5 *
O yesli b ty mogla (Ah, if Only You Could for One Moment), Op. 38, No. 4
Na nivy zhjoltye (On the Golden Cornfields), Op. 57, No. 2
Pimpinella, Op. 38, No. 6 *
Skazi o chem. v teni vetvei (Tell Me, What’s in the Shade of the Branches), Op. 57, No. 1
Zabyt tak skoro? (To Forget So Soon?)
Sred’ shumnogo bala (In the Midst of the Ball), Op. 38, No. 3 *
Serenade O ditja (O Child Beneath Thy Window), Op. 63, No. 6 *
Serenade Don Juana (Don Juan’s Serenade), Op. 38, No. 1 *
Ja perezhil svoi zhelania (Gone Are My Heart’s Desires), Op. 3, No. 2 *
Mechtatelju (To a Dreamer), Op. 32, No. 6 *
Schastlivoe plavanie (Prosperous Voyage), Op. 15, No. 8 *
Nochnaja pesn strannika (The Wanderer’s Night Song), Op. 6, No. 1 *
Zimnij vecher (Winter’s Evening), Op. 13, No. 1 *
Pora (It Is Time), Op. 14, No. 12 *
Ne ver’ moi drug (Believe Me Not, Friend), Op. 14, No. 7 *
Ja byl u nei (I Was with Her), Op. 14, No. 4
My otdokhnjom (Let Us Rest), Op. 26, No. 3 *
Vesenniye vodï (Spring Waters), Op. 14, No. 11 *
* First performance at Ravinia Festival
DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY, Baritone
Internationally acclaimed baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and studied in Krasnoyarsk. He won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1989. After his Western operatic debut at the Nice Opera in Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dame, his career exploded as he undertook regular engagements at the world’s major opera houses, including the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Teatro alla Scala Milan, Vienna State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Kirov Opera, in addition to appearances at the Salzburg Festival as the Count in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Notable roles include the title roles of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and the Verdi roles of Posa in Don Carlos, Germont pere in La traviata and Francesco in I Masnadieri. Also a celebrated recitalist, Hvorostovsky has appeared at such venues as Wigmore Hall, Queen’s Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Teatro alla Scala, Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, Suntory Hall, the Liceu and the Musikverein. He regularly performs in concert with such top orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Rotterdam Philharmonic. Russian composer Georgi Sviridov wrote a song cycle, St. Petersburg, especially for Hvorostovsky, who often includes this cycle and other music by Sviridov in his recitals. Hvorostovsky’s numerous recordings for Delos Records include a CD of Russian war songs entitled Where Are You My Brothers?; Passione Di Napoli, a collection of Neapolitan songs; a disc of Verdi arias; and a disc of Russian folk songs. This is Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s third season at Ravinia Festival, where he debuted in 1998 and heroically headlined a 2002 concert as a commanding solo artist after a co-billed colleague fell ill.
IVARI ILJA, Piano
Ivari Ilja was born in Tallinn, Estonia, and studied piano at the Tallinn State Conservatory with Laine Mets and at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Vera Gornostayeva and Sergey Dorensky. The winner of many prizes in several national and international competitions, including the Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw and the Vianna da Motta Piano Competition in Lisbon, he has performed as soloist with such orchestras as the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, under such conductors as Arvo Volmer, Eri Klas, Leo Krämer, Veronica Dudarova, Urs Schneider, Roman Matsov, Imants Resnis, Andres Mustonen, Peeter Lilje, Theodore Kuchar and Vello Pähn. His repertoire includes mostly Romantic music, such as Chopin, Brahms and Schumann, but he also performs repertoire by other composers, including Mozart, Prokofiev and Britten. Ilja also performs chamber music and has accompanied many singers, including Irina Arkhipova, Maria Guleghina, Elena Zaremba, Pauletta de Vaughn and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and has performed concerts in Russia, Finland, Sweden, the Baltic states, Japan, United States, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Poland and France, among other countries. Tonight Ivari Ilja makes his Ravinia Festival debut.
PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93)
The vast popularity of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral, dance, operatic and chamber compositions have overshadowed his considerable output in smaller musical forms—piano pieces, choruses and songs. More than 100 compositions for solo voice and piano, written from his teenage years until shortly before his death at age 53, illustrate the breadth of Tchaikovsky’s musical temperament and tastes more clearly than any other genre. His poetic sources extend from the finest Russian writers (Mikhail Lermontov, Alexei Nikolayevich Pleshcheyev, Alexander Pushkin, Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy and Feodor Ivanovich Tyutchev) to Russian translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Adam Mickiewicz, Alfred de Musset and Scottish ballads. Tchaikovsky’s “romances” (his preferred designation) are equally diverse in subject matter, from children’s and jesting songs to the more profound.
The Six Romances Op. 6 were composed as a quick source of income within the span of a single week, December 5-12, 1869, after Tchaikovsky put finishing touches on the first version of Romeo and Juliet. The fifth song, “Otchego?” (Why?), utilizes Lev Alexandrovich Mey’s translation of Heinrich Heine’s “Warum sind denn die Rosen so blaß?”—a poem of despair and abandonment set by dozens of composers.
Almost one year passed before Tchaikovsky turned again to the romance with the completion of “Zabyt tak skoro?” (To Forget So Soon?) on November 7, 1870. The revision of Romeo and Juliet, composition of the Valse-Scherzo, Op. 7, and Capriccio Op. 8 for solo piano, completion of the ballet Undine and very preliminary work on an opera based on The Oprichnik stood in the way. His good friend Alexei Nikolayevich Apukhtin provided the text for “Zabyt tak skoro?,” whose music Tchaikovsky may have begun a year or two earlier.
Tchaikovsky openly and widely expressed interest in composing “a variety of small pieces” in February 1878. His longtime patron Nadezhda von Meck collected a number of poems by Afanasy Afanasyebich Fet, Lev Alexandrovich Mey, Feodor Ivanovich Tyutchev and Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy. Of these, Tchaikovsky admitted to von Meck, “I am particularly pleased with the Tolstoy, which I like very much . . . In particular I am interested in Don Juan, which I read a very long time ago. I was enchanted by the section you indicated in Don Juan, and certainly I shall set it to music.” Over the next few months, Tchaikovsky composed the Six Romances Op. 38 while traveling among Florence, Italy; Clarens, Switzerland; and Kamenka, Brailov and Verbovka, Russia. After making modest changes to the texts by Tolstoy (four, including the dramatic poem “Don Juan”) and Mikhail Lermontov (one), he completed these half-dozen vocal gems on July 25. The remaining song, “Pimpinella,” is an arrangement of an Italian song that Tchaikovsky heard a street singer named Vittorio perform in Florence. “The day before leaving,” he wrote to von Meck on July 16, 1878, “I listened to him once more and noted down the words and music to one song, which I am sending you with my accompaniment. Isn’t it a delightful tune? And such peculiar words!”
The Six Romances Op. 57 follow four years of inactivity in the realm of the romance for solo voice and piano. Tchaikovsky had composed his Op. 54 collection of 16 Songs for Children in the interim. The Op. 57 set of romances evolved haphazardly throughout 1884. Only after Tchaikovsky had composed new songs on texts by Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Dimitri Merezhkovsky and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (in Russian translation) did he decide to unite them with previously written romances using poems by Vladimir Alexandrovich Sollogub and Alexei Nikolayevich Pleshcheyev. Each song bore a dedication to a different singer: Fyodor Petrovich Komissarzhevsky, Bogomir Bogomirovich Korsov, Emiliya Karlovna Pavlovskaya, Vera Vasilyevna Butakova, Dmitri Andreyevich Usatov and Aleksandra Pavlovna Krutikova. (Korsov, Pavlovskaya and Usatov had recently created leading roles in Tchaikovsky’s opera Mazeppa.)
All of the Six Romances Op. 63 utilize texts by the poet “K.R.,” penname of the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, to whom Tchaikovsky dedicated the entire set. Between November and December 27, 1887, while vacationing in Madanovo, he completed these half-dozen songs. Tchaikovsky expressed disappointment with the results in a letter to the Grand Duke: “[They] will appear to you (as, unfortunately, it seems is in fact the case) much weaker than my previous romances.” Uneven, perhaps, but these romances are also capable of great musical tenderness, as epitomized by the final song, “Serenade O ditja” (O Child Beneath Thy Window).
NIKOLAI MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Nikolai Medtner has been called the “forgotten member” of the triumvirate of post-Romantic Russian pianist-composers, the undervalued compatriot of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin. Medtner possessed unquestioned credentials as a pianist: he entered the Moscow Conservatory at age 10 and received the gold medal with distinction in 1900. Vasily Safonov, director of the conservatory, stated that he would have received a diamond medal, had one existed. Immediately following his graduation Medtner focused on his performing career, competing and receiving first honorable mention in the Third International Anton Rubinstein Competition (1900), held in Vienna. Three years later Medtner made his mark as a composer, publishing his official Op. 1—the Acht Stimmungsbilder for solo piano. He returned to the conservatory in 1908 on a one-year appointment as piano professor, and the following year became an advisory board member of Éditions Russes de Musique, the publishing company founded by Serge Koussevitzky. Medtner received the Glinka Prize for composition in 1916 for two piano sonatas.
He remained in Russia for four years after the Russian Revolution, eventually moving to Berlin and later Paris. A series of concert tours (often arranged through the generosity of Rachmaninoff) led to the Baltic countries, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia and the United States. Medtner never again lived in his native land, although confessions of homesickness were quite common (“I cannot find the words to say how much I miss my motherland,” he noted in 1923), and he died in London just short of his 71st birthday. As a composer Medtner occupies a middle ground between Rachmaninoff’s opulent lyricism and Scriabin’s avant-garde harmonic explorations. His creative credo, as professed in the book Muza i moda (“The Muse and the Fashion,” published in Paris in 1935), emphasizes certain natural and unchangeable principles, a position that alienated Medtner from his progressive contemporaries. This aesthetic stance, coupled with official restrictions in the Soviet Union, resulted in few performances of Medtner’s music during his lifetime.
If “forgotten” as a pianist-composer, Medtner remains virtually unknown as a song composer, a circumstance less reflective of the quality and quantity of his vocal writing (more than 100 pieces for voice and piano) than the widespread fascination with piano virtuosity. Song composition threaded through his entire career, from the earliest surviving example written at age 16 (“Molitva”—Prayer) until his final collection (Op. 61, “completed” in 1951), a mélange of earlier songs based on lyrics by German and Russian poets. Medtner’s song output can be divided into three fairly distinct periods. With the exception of two songs based on Mikhail Lermontov poems (Op. 1bis and Op. 3, No. 1), the early collections up to Op. 19a (1910-11) favor German poets, especially Heinrich Heine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Nietzsche. Russian poets, overwhelmingly Alexander Pushkin with Feodor Ivanovich Tyutchev also significantly represented, provided texts for the songs between Op. 24 (1911) and Op. 45 (1922-24). Medtner’s final collections alternate (Goethe texts in Op. 46 from 1922-24; Pushkin texts in Op. 52 from 1928-29) and intermingle (the aforementioned Op. 61) German and Russian poems. Stylistically, Medtner songs betray a strong Germanic influence, especially Brahms and Wolf, in their economical and superbly lyrical writing for the voice combined with suitably expressive piano accompaniments and solo episodes.
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Rachmaninoff’s seven song collections, written between 1890 and 1916, are intimately connected with the Russian homeland and her people. Most of the prominent Russian poets, both Romantic and symbolist alike, supplied texts—Golenishchev-Kutuzov, Merezhkovsky, Polonsky, Pushkin, Shevchenko, Tolstoy and Tyutchev—although Rachmaninoff was not averse to using Russian translations of German (Heinrich Heine) and French (Victor Hugo) poetry. Frequently he composed with specific Russian singers in mind, not the least of which were bass Fyodor Chaliapin, tenor Leonid Sobinov and soprano Feliya Litvin. Dedicatees included his closest acquaintances: fellow student Yury Sakhnovsky, his future wife Natalya Satina, the infant daughter of a favorite cousin, his former piano teacher Anna Ornatskaya and the deceased Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Rachmaninoff completely abandoned the piano and voice medium after leaving Russia permanently in the wake of the 1917 Revolution.
Rachmaninoff poured his most personal musical expression into his 80-plus songs. Melodies tend toward simple, uncomplicated lyricism, at times bordering on a declamatory style for the sake of clear text projection. Accompaniments span the whole gamut of pianism, from straightforward chordal patterns to astounding arpeggios and scales. Listening to Rachmaninoff’s songs, one is always aware of his legendary virtuosity as pianist, but also of his self-effacing, deferential personality.
Rachmaninoff culminated his early phase of vocal composition with the Twelve Songs Op. 14 (1896). Texts come from the works of various poets, and the composer dedicated each song to a different individual. “Ja byl u nei” (I Was with Her) captures the elation of mutual love presented in the lyrics of Alexei Koltsov; Rachmaninoff dedicated this song to his friend Yuri Sakhnovsky. Again, in a song offered to his cousin Anna Klokacheva—“Ne ver’ moi drug” (Believe Me Not, Friend)—Rachmaninoff portrays love as rendered in verse by Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy. “Vesenniye vodï” (Spring Waters) depicts the icy springtime streams in Feodor Ivanovich Tyutchev’s poem with an evocative piano accompaniment; Rachmaninoff dedicated this song to his first piano teacher, Anna Ornatskaya. The final song of the collection, “Pora” (It Is Time), translates Semyon Nadson’s plea for help for a besieged people into powerfully conceived song.
Returning to Russia after a curative visit to Italy in 1906, Rachmaninoff completed the 15 Songs Op. 26. His close friends in Moscow, Arkady and Mariya Kerzin, assembled the sundry Russian poems. Arkady, a lawyer, and Mariya, a trained pianist, had founded the Circle of Russian Music Lovers in Moscow in 1896, an organization that presented concerts of Russian chamber and orchestral music until 1912. As the song collection grew, Rachmaninoff pressed his friends for more emotionally diverse lyrics: “Then in this little anthology of yours all the words demand the minor key. Is it impossible to find a few verses in a more major vein? Otherwise I shall sink into total apathy!” The third song, “My otdokhnjom” (Let Us Rest), reflects the more profound aspect of the Op. 26 set. Its text, which comes from Sonya’s final monologue in Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, calls upon compassion to end the world’s evil and despair.
—Program notes © Todd E. Sullivan 2009