Because Sergey Rachmaninov's most popular pieces are oriented toward the solo piano or piano and orchestra, his vocal music -- apart from the perennial Vocalise -- is often overlooked; even when it is given some consideration, it is usually discounted as a sideline to the major works. Yet Rachmaninov composed more than 80 songs throughout his career, which shows more than a passing interest in the genre, and his special aptitude for long-breathed melodies is evident in his intensely lyrical settings. Dmitry Hvorostovsky has recorded 26 of these songs (sometimes the composer referred to them as romances, hence the album's title), and this 2012 release on Ondine provides a generous sampling of the songs in Russian. Hvorostovsky's rich and vibrant baritone lends emotional weight to the somber songs, and his seriousness in the passionate numbers keeps them from sinking into bathos. He is accompanied sympathetically and with great restraint by pianist Ivari Ilja, and the two artists control the material with a simplicity of expression that might befits Schubert lieder. Whether or not Rachmaninov's vocal music rises to that level is for the listener to decide, but there can be no doubt that it receives a first-rate performance here and benefits from the attention. Ondine's sound is clear and naturally resonant, and Hvorostovsky has magnificent presence.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson