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
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'.
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.
see also Review
by Evan Dickerson