Russian war songs resonate

Times Staff Writer

There was a point in Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s concert Sunday afternoon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when the enthusiastic applause shifted into rhythmic clapping, a much rarer form of approval from a classical music audience. The charismatic Siberian baritone had just finished singing Yan Frenkel’s “Zhuravli” (Cranes), a beautiful setting of a deeply felt poem that links the deaths of soldiers to a transcendent image of nature.

The piece was part of the second half of the Los Angeles Opera-sponsored program -- “Songs of the War Years.” Everyone was moved by these selections, but for the many Russians in the audience, especially those of the World War II generation, the music must have had a special meaning, even in the overly lush orchestrations played by the Philharmonia of Russia under Constantine Orbelian.

Hvorostovsky sang these pieces with even greater nuance, sensitivity and dramatic involvement than he had displayed in the opera excepts in the first half. Certainly there he showed nothing less than superb technique in such calling cards as Prince Igor’s aria from Borodin’s opera or Aleko’s cavatina from Rachmaninoff’s opus. But there was also a sense of his favoring breath control and seamlessness of legato at the expense of text. Not in the war songs.

Even Orbelian, who had led mechanical accounts of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles” (from “Mlada”) and the Prelude from Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina,” came to life.


Joining the orchestra for the war songs was the folk instrumental ensemble Style of Five. Everyone was miked here, but that was because of the artists’ preferences, not because a recording was being made, according to an opera spokesperson.

Contributing mightily was the Oakland-based Pacific Boychoir, whose musical sophistication and quality of sound were astonishing. In Matvey Blanter’s “Solntse skr’ilos’ za goroiu” (The Sun Hid Behind the Hill), the 55-plus singers not only nailed the complex rhythmic pattern exactly but did so in perfectly coordinated swaying movements.

Hvorostovsky capped the program with three encores: “Otchi Chiornie” (Dark Eyes), “Rodina” and “Moscow Nights.”