How encouraging to note an increasing interest in Respighi’s
beautifully crafted and melodic songs. This 1997 recording rivals the
1996 Channel Classics album that included many of the same songs by
another tenor, Leonardo de Lisi with pianist Reinild Mees.
The Pavane collection comprises 22 songs beginning
and ending with two student-years (1896-97) songs: L’ultima ebrezza
("Last rapture") and Notturno, their style generally modelled
on Tosti. Everaert has a finely tuned sensitivity for the lines of Respighi’s
songs – his silken legato closely observes every sensuous twist and
turn. He generally allows the songs to unfold more slowly than Leonardo
de Lisi whose more oaken and smoky voice, and greater urgency, lends
itself better to the more passionate utterances of songs like Ma come
potrei (‘How could I ever endure...’) from 1906, which is one of Respighi’s
Cinq canti all’antica, of which only four are included on the
Pavane CD, Canzone di Re Enzo being unaccountably omitted. There are
some interesting contrasts in interpretation between the two tenors.
In Invito alla Danza (‘Invitation to the dance’) composed in 1906, for
instance, de Lisi and Mees are charmingly persuasive (and they point
up the allusions to gavotte and waltz rhythms more clearly) whereas
Everaert is too nice and would hardly sweep the lady off her feet. But
both tenors are tenderly romantic in Respighi’s Contrasto (‘Contrast’)
which opens with the words, "The moon weeps with slow tears…"
This song dates again from 1906, and its rising and falling lines have
a haunting and timeless beauty.
Respighi’s mature Deità silvane (‘Gods
of the Woods’) cycle, composed in 1917, recalls the fascination of gardens
at twilight and shows the influence of Debussy and Ravel (it also echoes
Fountains of Rome). Again Everaert’s lighter, more honeyed tones
suit these fragile songs rather more than the darker tone and grain
of de Lisi. On balance, however, I have to admit a preference for a
female voice for these delicate, atmospheric songs. (I admire Renato
Scotto’s recording on Vox 7201).
This Pavane collection includes one or two less familiar
songs. I was unaware of the Tuscan rispetto Razzolan sopra a l’aja
le galline. As Everaert points out in his notes, "it is a little
masterpiece of its kind." It’s about Gigi, a young man, who stares
at a young girl fetching water from a well. She deliberately lingers
but he dares not say anything. Disappointed and angry, she snaps at
him, "If God gave us eyes to see, He also gave us a mouth to speak
with!" Evereart cleverly conveys this waspish reaction as the song’s
"sting in the tail" when the tempo abruptly slackens after
it has been conveying the breathlessness of Gigi’s passionate but impotent
admiration. The piano ostinatos cleverly echo his hollow ardour and
the drawing of the water from the well.
Respighi’s piano writing always matches the beauty
of his vocal lines; it is also supremely evocative (consider, for instance,
Pioggia, with its images of falling rain so felicitously pictured in
the piano part). Further, the piano frequently points up the meaning
(and sometimes hidden meanings?) of the words. Both pianists offer delicate,
I have to say that the main irritation about this Pavane
album is that it does not include the texts of these songs. The thin
booklet just carries notes, in three languages, about Respighi’s place
in the scheme of Italian song, and portraits of the artists. But Respighi’s
songs and their nuances are not well known enough yet to dispense with
their texts, even though Axel Evereart’s articulate notes describe their
overall content admirably.
A compilation of beautiful songs sensitively performed
and another valuable addition to the growing and widening Respighi discography.
(This text is based on a review formerly written by
the author for Fanfare magazine).