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INESSA GALANTE: Arias from Verdi’s late works
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Un ballo in maschera (1858): Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa, Morrò, ma prima in grazia
La forza del destino (1862): La Vergine degli angeli, Pace, pace mio Dio
Aida (1871): Ritorna vincitor, O patria mia
Don Carlo (1867 rev. 1884): Tu che le vanità
Otello (1887): Salce, salce, Ave Maria
Falstaff (1893): Sul fil d’un soffio esteso
Requiem (1874): Libera me
Inessa Galante (soprano), Choir of the Stockholm School of Economics, Riga, Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
Recorded January 2003, Riga recording studio
CAMPION RRCD1349 [72:52]


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It took me several hours to get through this. Not, I hasten to add, because it was so boring I had to keep stopping and starting again, but because, while I found plenty to enjoy in each aria, a little voice inside me kept saying, "but I’d like to hear how so-and-so manages this or that part". And so out came the CDs and LPs and it turned into a day’s work.

The Latvian soprano Inessa Galante has a splendid voice, warm and rich and ringingly secure in fortes. She can also float soft pianos, and these have just a touch of flutter which is at the moment quite attractive so I hope it doesn’t herald any future problems. If you compare her with the young Renata Tebaldi (in 1950, on Warner Fonit 5050466-2953-2-3) in two of the arias which call for sustained, soft singing, O patria mia and the Ave Maria, you will find a regal authority, a rock-steadiness which was to grant her a career lasting many years into the future.

Another question is that of style. Galante habitually links notes with portamento, attacks notes from below and eases into high notes rather than taking them head on. Now this is all part of the Verdian style (at least some of the portamentos are in the score), and if you listen to the very clean rendering of Morrò, ma prima in grazia by Margaret Price, abetted by Georg Solti’s ascetic accompaniment, you are likely to think so much the better for Inessa Galante. But these devices, like ornamentation in baroque music, are effective in inverse proportion to the extent to which they are used. A comparison of the passage Imprecherò la morte a Radames… a lui ch’amo pur tanto! from Ritorna vincitor as sung by Galante and then as sung by Maria Callas, Leontyne Price and Leonie Rysanek, and shows that while the latter three are far from "scrubbed clean", they place their expressive devices more judiciously, maintaining a better sense of line and a more urgent communication. At times I feel that Galante is applying these tricks of the trade conscientiously rather than from inner necessity. Perhaps for this reason why her drooping portamentos (arguably, Verdi’s slurs in the score mean he wants portamento) in Salce, salce draw attention to themselves while those of Tebaldi and Rysanek do not.

And yet you could find Tebaldi the more mannered in this particular piece, for while Galante and Mikkelsen treat it as a haunting, slow aria (and so perhaps too little differentiated from the Ave Maria), Tebaldi and Antonino Votto go hell for leather and give a verismo interpretation which some will feel more suited to Mascagni than Verdi (but it’s thrilling!). Rysanek and Arturo Basile show it is possible to find a middle way.

If I’ve dwelt on these matters it is because I feel that Galante has the voice and the musicality to match some of the great names I’ve mentioned, so I hope she listens to them and learns from them. If we make comparisons with contemporaries rather than Golden Age singers, then I much prefer her to the bumpy Renée Fleming in the Ave Maria, as I do, more marginally, to Angela Gheorghiu in Pace, pace mio Dio, though the latter has the advantage of a superbly urgent accompaniment from Riccardo Chailly. Heard away from the comparisons, there is plenty to sit back and enjoy, and only two items fail to make their mark. In Sul fil d’un soffio etesio Galante is unable to lighten her voice (hear the smile on Marcella Pobbe’s voice in this piece) and in the extract from the Requiem she demonstrates that she could contribute handsomely to a great performance of this work if one were to hand but, while the chorus and orchestra are good, the conductor is unable to stir them to a more than merely decorous interpretation. At 14’ 41" this is more than two-and-a-half minutes longer than Fricsay’s superbly taut DG recording (with Maria Stader) and even outlasts the spineless Giulini.

A general feature which emerged from the comparisons is that an Italian conductor, be he Serafin, Votto, Basile or other, is unlikely to adopt the lugubriously slow tempi for pieces like O patria mia and Salce, salce chosen by non-Italians such as Mikkelsen , Solti and others. From the booklet it can be seen that opera does not figure largely in the career of either the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra or of Terje Mikkelsen , and while they mostly acquit themselves with competence, this may explain why the oboe plays, with loving artistry, a hideous E flat instead of E natural just before the voice enters in O patria mia. When I was young and innocent I thought conductors (and maybe producers) were there to sort that sort of thing out, but it’s amazing what some of them don’t notice.

The recording is good, in a slightly recessed way – many of my older comparisons had a more exciting presence – and there are useful notes in three languages, but the words of the arias are not given. I hope my reservations won’t be too discouraging because I do feel this is potentially a major talent.

Christopher Howell

 



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