The title of this disc might lead readers to dismiss it as ‘just
another collection of popular classics’. Nothing could be more
wrong. It is true that Padre Martini’s Plaisir d’amour
has been over-exposed and performed in innumerable arrangements
of variable quality. A couple of Tosti’s songs are frequently
heard but when did you last hear one sung by a soprano? This has
been tenor territory, at least since the days of Caruso, and too
often served as vehicles for exhibitions in bravura. It is something
of a purification bath to have them sung as intimate Lieder by
a light lyrical voice.
I will comment more
in detail on the whole programme in a moment; let me just say
that Mozart’s lovely Ridente la calma appears now and
then in recital and Verdi’s Stornello is probably his
best known song – as opposed to the opera arias. But I wonder
how many readers can claim to be familiar with the remaining
songs. There are even four world premiere recordings here by
one-time-greats, so even if the performances had been just so-so
the disc would have been of interest. And there is certainly
nothing mediocre about them. In fact Ms Nakajima had me captivated
all through the programme. She has a soft and comfortable voice,
lyrical and quite small it seems, which is confirmed by her
biography. Her roles have been Handel and Mozart, the Italian
bel canto – including Lucia – Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier
and some operetta. Her dynamic scope isn’t very wide but within
this scope she still finds a lot of nuance and expressiveness
– in many ways an ideal voice for Lieder and Mélodies.
She employs a great
deal of rubato in the opening Plaisir d’amour which,
considering the period of its composition may be anachronistic
– and so does the piano accompaniment, not least the postlude.
But it is an agreeable performance that I will be pleased to
play to guests as an alternative to Mireille Mattieu or Edith
Piaf. The two Scarlatti arias are light and fluent and Ridente
la calma is also light and charming without too much detail.
There is elegance and softness in the Bellini song, composed
in 1834, which opera enthusiasts will recognize as a preliminary
study for Elvira’s Qui la voce from I Puritani.
Good legato, beautiful tone and exemplary accompaniment. Just
a few weeks ago I heard the song, which evidently was found
not so long ago, with José Carreras and good as it was in his
reading I can’t help feeling that it is better suited to a female
The next six songs
were published in 1869 at the initiative of Giuseppe Verdi.
This was the year that Francesco Maria Piave, the author of
the librettos for Aroldo, I due Foscari, Ernani, La forza
del destino, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra and
Stiffelio, suffered an apoplectic stroke and got into financial
trouble. Verdi helped him with a generous donation but he also
managed to get a number of then important opera composers to
write songs for this album, the takings from which would also
go to Piave. Not only Verdi but also the other three Italian
composers had written operas to librettos by Piave: Mercadante
set La schiava saracena, Ricci Crispino e la Comare
and Cagnoni La Tombola. The last two mentioned are forgotten
today but were highly regarded for their comic operas and some
of their works were played until the end of the 19th
century. The two French composers were close friends to Verdi.
is a lovely song, simple but affecting, Cagnoni’s is melodically
attractive and very well sung and Mercadante’s is a splendid
composition, expressive and with fine accompaniment. Thomas’s
and Ricci’s songs are OK but more ordinary and Verdi’s Stornello
is the masterpiece of the album.
are rarely heard today but the composer is still more than a
footnote in the history books and at least some arias can be
heard occasionally on recital records. The two further songs
by him confirm that he was something more than just a run-of-the-mill
composer and La palomma, nervously rocking in ¾ time,
is certainly worth hearing more than once.
The concluding group
of Tosti songs are all out of his top drawer and as so often
he manages to create something more than agreeable parlour songs.
Aprile is especially lovely to hear with a female voice
– far from the breast-beating of stentorian male heroes. Tormento!,
as can be seen from the title, is a dramatic song and here she
goes slightly beyond what is natural for her lyric voice and
develop a vibrato that is noticeable but to particularly disturbing.
Again she shows her care about nuances. Ideale may sound
bloodless when mentally compared to her many big-voiced predecessors
but her lyrical approach certainly pays dividends. Then she
rounds of the programme with two farewells, both sensitively
and beautifully performed and seldom has Goodbye sounded
The recording is
excellent, the pianist is good and the booklet has all the sung
texts but alas no translations. With constantly well considered
readings and an interesting programme this disc should be of
interest to even well-stocked lovers of songs.