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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Songs: Amore e morte [2:28]; Ah, rammenta, o bella Irene [4:34]; Una lagrima [3:52]; La mère et l’enfant [5:14]; Amor marinro [2:03]; È morta [5:26]; Su l:onda tremola [2:58]; L:amor funesto [4:56]; Giuro d:amore [2:44]; Il sospiro [3:14]; La ninna-nanna [7:34]; Le crépuscule [2:57]; La lontananza [2:00]; L’amor mio [2:37]; La sultana [5:54]; Il pescatore [8:33]
Dennis O'Neill (tenor); Ingrid Surgenor (piano).
rec. St Silas Church, St Silas Place, London, 24-26 February 1997.
NAXOS 8.557780 [67:04]


This is a simply gorgeous selection of songs. Here is a side of Donizetti few encounter, perhaps, but there is no doubt more should. Intensely lyric, ardent and completely and utterly Romantic, these songs are a constant delight. Not so Naxos's decision to cost-cut and direct us towards a web .pdf file for texts and translations. I have railed about this elsewhere on the site, so let me just say it is just as irritating here. A shame, as these are quality performances.

Dennis O'Neill sings with real belief in each of these little gems. His voice is well focused, his Italian excellent. His pianist, Ingrid Surgenor - familiar as accompanist-in-residence for the Cardiff Singer of the World - is almost beyond praise, her facility a joy when she gets the chance to demonstrate it: 'Ah, rammenta', for example. She is no less impressive invoking the desolation of 'Una lagrima' - O'Neill's inflecting of the line in this song is most impressive - or 'La mère et l'enfant'. The excellent scholar Julian Budden, in his notes, describes this as, 'the most poignant of all [Donizetti's] salon pieces', and it is difficult to argue; the emotions invoked here go far beyond the drawing room. It is true some of the lower notes stretch O'Neill's range a little, but the drama is undeniable. The intensely sad 'E morta' ('She is dead') is no less affecting.

The recital is well laid out. The happy-go-lucky 'Amor marinato' - 'A Sailor's Love', a popular Neapolitan song - comes straight after 'La mère et l'enfant', the aural equivalent of coming out into bright sunshine from a darkened room. O'Neill and Surgenor project the necessary serious atmosphere for 'Giuro d'amore' ('Swearing Love'). Surgenor can, in fact, transform the seemingly common-place accompaniment into a real emotive statement ('Il sospiro').

O'Neill and Surgenor save in one way the best until last. 'Il pescatore' is the longest song (at 8:30) and is in the manner of Schubert's longer offerings in its storytelling: think 'Der Zwerg' rather than 'Erlkönig'. Gripping.

If it is true there are too many unwanted 'h's from O'Neill ('Su l'onda tremola'), this remains a superb introduction to another side of Donizetti's personality. Whether it is in ardent declaration of love or in lullaby ('Ninna-nanna'), there is much to enjoy. Donizetti's craftsmanship is never, ever in doubt; neither is the devotion of the O'Neill/Surgenor partnership.  Alpha's superb disc, 'Un Italien à Paris' (Alpha 070) would be the next step if one wished to explore further, I would suggest.

Colin Clarke

see also Review by Evan Dickerson


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