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Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)
Romanze – Popular Love Songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti
Aprile [3:12]; Ideale [3:16]; Malià [2:26]; Rêve [3:08] ; That day! [3:57]; Infidélité [2:37]; Non t'amo più! [4:52]; La Serenata [3:11]; Chanson de l'Adieu [2:35]; L'ultimo bacio [2:04]; I dare to love thee (1892) [2:25]; Mattinata [2:50]; Si tu le voulais [1:54]; T'affretta [3:04]; Luna d'estate [1:57]; Goodbye! (1880) [4:31]; Vorrei morire [4:17]; Pour un baiser [1:46]; Segreto [4:50]; Ninna nanna [3:47]; L'alba sepàra dalla luce l'ombra [2:19]; ‘A vucchella (1907) [2:41]
Yves Saelens (tenor); Inge Spinette (piano)
No recording details
EUFODA 1365 [67:41]

Single discs devoted to Tosti are rare. More common by far is the popular album or recital with a selection or maybe just the one song. So this collection of twenty-two songs is a brave undertaking, given that not all Tosti’s effusions have survived the decades with their cachet intact.
Eminent singers still dust off the crowd pleasers of course – the Three Tenors have had their say – but in past days the list of singers who essayed these songs on disc would last the length of this review. Gigli of course recorded a number, Schipa fewer. Caruso had set the Gold Standard early on when it came to Ideale and Goodbye! Melba had even descended in her lofty chariot to give us Mattinata and Goodbye! – the latter also recorded, incongruously one would think, by Eva Turner. But enough of nostalgia – you won’t want to know that the following also left behind precious examples of their individual ways with Tosti songs; Björling, Ponselle, Gobbi, Tauber, Schmidt, Piccaver, Edith Mason, Battistini, Tetrazzini, Eames, Lauri-Volpi, de Luca, Maurel, Anselmi, Smirnov, Galli-Curci, Patti, Destinn, Supervia, Pinza, Corelli, di Stefano, Lanza…it’s quite a list and we’ve barely made it to the LP age.
So Yves Saelens has his work cut out, when shellac-hoarding critics prove eager to judge him against the great ghosts of the repertoire. So let’s first note that he is a sensitive singer, warm of voice and with an attractive timbre. His approach to the songs can be highly persuasive and he generally makes good tempo choices. The partnership with Inge Spinette is good; many old-timers on disc eschewed piano accompaniment for small orchestral forces. And as he has to sing in several languages it’s good that he’s clearly adept linguistically; his English for example is fine with pretty reasonable diction as well.
I suppose what’s sometimes missing concerns matters both idiomatic and technical. He seems emotionally rather recessive for much of the time – somewhat in the manner of contemporary English singers tackling Elgar’s songs - and lacking the spirit of emotional generosity and expressive nuance that can make these songs live. There’s also a technical point; he sometimes seems uncomfortable in the more strenuous moments and climaxes; the voice sounds forced and the vibrato widens.
A few examples will suffice. Ideale is a marvellous song and Saelens sings it at precisely the right tempo. But he tends to over-colour the line and to fuss with articulation; Björling and Schipa sing it with honeyed legato and unforced power. Goodbye! is taken rather slowly and can sound inert. He struggles in the climax and the piano part isn’t as triumphantly ringing as it might be. Gigli shows the way here for all his terrible English. So too in Segreto where the half-catch in Gigli’s voice is one of the myriad of expressive touches that brings the song passionately to life. The same comments apply to La Serenata where one does rather miss the portamenti and inimitable touches of older generations. Saelens just seems very straight and matter-of-fact when judged by the highest standards.
Still the selection is astutely chosen to show some of the breadth that exists in the songs. And it’s in that respect valuable for presenting songs one may not have much encountered such as L'alba sepàra dalla luce l'ombra and the gauzy Franco-salon charms of Si tu le voulais.
The recording slightly blunts immediacy. The song texts are all here, in the original language. One for the song enthusiast then, but one who’s also arrayed with a smattering of classic Tosti performances on 78.
Jonathan Woolf


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