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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ave Maria [6:49]
In solitaria stanza [3:47]
Nell’orror di notte oscura [3:47]
More, Elisa, lo stanco poeta [2:53]
Non t’accostare all’urna [4:09]
Stornello [1:51]
Il tramonto [3:25]
Ad una stella [2:58]
Il mistero [4:25]
Lo spazzacamino [2:31]
Il poveretto [2:34]
La seduzione [2:48]
Brindisi (1st version – autograph score) [2:11]
Chi i bei dì m’adduce ancora [2:44]
L’esule [8:18]
Brindisi (2nd version – published edition) [2:13]
Dennis O’Neill, tenor
Ingrid Surgenor, piano
rec. 27-29 October 1997, St. Silas’ Church, St. Silas’ Place, London. DDD
NAXOS 8.557778 [57:24]



Verdi needs no introduction. His reputation precedes him.

This disc presents an interesting listening endeavor because it represents the composer’s work in a genre for which he is not known. Song and opera, in spite of their superficial similarities, present very different challenges for composers and performers alike. In an opera, characterization and communication are developed and executed over large spans of time. Song, on the other hand, requires both composer and interpreter to compress and express the emotional content of a poem into much smaller segments of time. As a writer of expansive operatic masterpieces, Verdi’s song-writing endeavors give the listener insight into his compositional prowess. When his resources are restricted - no orchestra, three minutes as opposed to three hours, and no interpersonal relationships to explore - can the master still produce works as insightful and moving as the operas?

This disc proves that Verdi can, in fact, produce small-scale compositions of beauty and efficacy. The melodies are unmistakably his. The Italian flair that characterizes his music is present throughout, but what is so remarkable is his ability to set a mood immediately and explore it thoroughly. The first selection, Ave Maria, sets the well-known prayer with understated, nuanced fervour. Non t’accostare all’urna expresses a departed soul’s angst and anger with an eerie solemnity while Stornello invokes fickle independence with hilarious result. These songs are all impressive vignettes that isolate and survey various emotions, personalities and situations.

The performances are, for the most part, exemplary. O’Neill possess a voice of rare beauty, and his ability to shape the expansive Verdian lines is impressive. His dynamic palette is wide, and he manages to use its various gradations frequently and sensitively, especially at the extreme top of his range. Unfortunately he has fallen into the habit of ending many phrases with an abrupt choke. Vocal pedagogues would, without a doubt, object on the grounds of healthy technique. These concerns aside, it is jarring to the ears when a phrase that has been beautiful from its inception ends with such an uncharacteristic grunt. His interpretations are engaging and well-planned, especially in the more character-oriented pieces such as Stornello and Lo spazzacamino. Ingrid Surgenor provides thoroughly musical and exciting accompaniment. Many of the melodies are anchored by a repetitive “oom-pa-pa” from the piano, and Surgenor proves her skill as she manages to imbue these formulaic figures with meaning and finesse. Furthermore, she follows O’Neill perfectly: ensemble issues are rare.

This recording is highly recommended. Fans of Verdi and of tenors as well as people who just love good singing will find this a worthy addition to their collections.

Jonathan Rohr



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