On Friday September 15, 2006 Siberian-Russian baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky was backed by The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, led by Constantine Orbelian, and the folkloric group, Style of Five in an all-Russian concert at Oktyabrsky Hall in St. Petersburg.

At age 44, and years before the illness that took him from us so prematurely, Hvorostovsky was then at the pinnacle of his prime.

The vocal wealth that made him one of top baritones of our time, the elegant sobriety of his stage persona, his impassioned way with the poetry and music of his homeland, his unflagging intellectual and emotional commitment to music and lyrics in equal parts were all there.

Only an artist of the stature of Hvorostovsky would dare program an all-Russian or all-anything lineup of songs belonging to neither the strictly-classical repertoire, nor to the world of Pop. But Hvorostovsky and his unimpeachable collaborators pull off this feat with impeccable taste and honest simplicity.

Mind you, this repertoire is enriched by the words of Russian poets of the level of Yevtushenko and Turgenev, and set to intensely emotional music by composers whose names are largely unfamiliar to listeners outside Russia but which are not only familiar to but beloved by Russians.

One gem follows another in seamless succession, with most of the songs provoking enthusiastic response from the capacity audience. The Bulakhov-Vyazemsky Troika (a favorite after repeated listening) enlivens the end of the first half with its brisk tempo and catchy melody, given an all-Russian color by the accompanying Style of Five ensemble.

Music director Constantine Orbelian, whose work this listener has long admired and frequently reviewed on this blog, provides inspiring support to Hvorostovsky in all the vocal selections.

The maestro opens the concert with two orchestral selections that involve the superb Style of Five. He then warms things up with the Spanish Dance from the 1955 Soviet film, Ovod (Gadfly) for which Dmitri Shostakovich contributed the score.

Still later Orbelian interjects the well-known waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade, brilliantly conducting it with whatever the Russian equivalent word is for pizzazz.

The DVD, released by DELOS a few years ago merits renewed attention as yet one more sampler of the magical voice and art of one of the great baritones of our time.

Rafael de Acha