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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Hector PANIZZA (1875-1967)
Aurora (1907): Canción a la Bandera; Intermezzo epico
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

Norma (1831): Act I Scene II: Pollione’s recitative and cavatina
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Il Corsaro (1848): Act I Scene I: Corrado’s recitative and aria
Luisa Miller (1849): Act II Finale II: Rodolfo’s scene and aria
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)

L’Africana (1864): Act IV:q< Vasco da Gama’s aria
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)

Mefistofele (1868): Act IV, Epilogue: Faust’s romance
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda (1876): Act II: Enzo’s recitative and romance
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

L’amico Fritz (1891): Act III Scene III: Fritz’s aria
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Siberia (1903): Act II: Prelude, Vassili’s aria
Bonus track: recording back stage
José Cura (tenor)
Sinfonia Varsovia/José Cura, with Gabriel Anechina (tenor) (Bellini)
Location: Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio, Polish Radio
Dates: 18th-19th February, 1st-2nd March 2002
AVIE Cuibar AV 0010 [60’29"]
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AVAILABILITY

Avie Records

Although the post-Three Tenors generation has still to produce a universally adulated figure able to fill the football stadiums of the world, the claims of José Cura are quite high. His is a strong baritonal tenor – nearer to Domingo than to Pavarotti, therefore – and it is the sort of tenor voice people like to hear, ringing, vibrant and reliable, right up to a high-quality top C. Moreover he phrases musically and naturally. Hear him in the Canción a la Bandera which opens and closes this programme and his qualities are evident (example 1: track 1 from beginning). He also arouses our curiosity about the opera itself. Hector Panizza is that same Ettore Panizza remembered as a conductor for his fiery interpretations of Italian operas at the Metropolitan in the 1930s, some of which have been transferred to CD.

You will also notice an occasional tendency to approach notes from below; this habit is certainly irritating when he tries to be soft and honeyed, as in "Quando le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller (example 2: track 4 from 1’ 43"); the second stanza of this aria goes rather better. On the other hand, very often this habit is held sufficiently in check; "O Paradiso", from "L’Africana" (the Italian version is used) can seem an open invitation to such treatment but is actually sung very well. Here, however, with so many famous versions in our ears, it has to be admitted that he brings no very special gifts of interpretation or communication to the task. The phrase towards the end "O nuovo mondo" carries no great enthusiasm or wonder, it’s just sung. Another famous aria, "Cielo e mar" has the phrase immediately following the opening words rather inelegantly managed (both times round), though the rest is mostly fine (example 3: track 7, from 2’ 40"). Nor do I find a great deal of stylistic variation between the different composers. Bellini is sung rather as Italian tenors used to sing him; strong and beefy, like a precursor of Verdi. Alfredo Kraus taught us that there are other ways. The interpretations become increasingly satisfying as the programme moves forward chronologically, therefore, and he convinces us that Giordano’s virtually forgotten Siberia might be worth investigating.

Singers who conduct their own accompaniments are rare, Herbert Handt being the only case that comes to mind (yes, I know Placido Domingo conducts, but I think I’m right in saying that he doesn’t conduct and sing at the same time). I should have thought that the movements required for conducting would interfere with the balance of the body and the control of the diaphragm required for singing, but they don’t seem to. As to the success of the operation, the Siberia Prelude demonstrates that Cura certainly can conduct. The advantages lie in the punctuality of the accompaniment – a singer is unlikely to plod along half a beat behind himself as some conductors do – but I also feel, as in the case of concerto soloists who conduct as well, that there is the loss of that dialogue between intelligent musical minds which can take place when the conductor/soloist mix is right. The presence of a fine conductor might have added a dimension to the interpretations.

In spite of my grumbles there is much to be enjoyed here; but it would be idle to pretend that the most famous arias have not been interpreted more memorably. We are informed that the recital "is a selection of part of the repertoire of José Cura that has never been recorded. No stylistic association coordinates the choice of the arias". In truth this modest disclaimer was hardly necessary; the programme works as well as programmes of opera extracts usually do. The bonus track is a rather confusing affair and of little interest. The recording is very good. Notes are limited to a personal comment on the Panizza aria by Cura and some brief comments on Aurora by Panizza himself. There are no texts except for the Panizza, which is also translated into English and German, and the titles are as given above, rather than the first line of the aria, which is how the pieces are usually known (and as I have referred to them in the text).

Christopher Howell


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