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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Carlo Colombara – Rencontres. Mélodies Françaises
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
1. Automne, Op. 18 No. 3 [2:31]
Poème d’un jour, Op. 112 (3 songs)
2. Rencontre [2:20]
3. Toujours [1:32]
4. Adieu [1:52]
5. Chanson du pêcheur, Op. 4 No. 1 [3:11]
6. Les berceaux, Op. 23 No. 1 [2:24]
Reynaldo HAHN (1875 – 1947)
7. L’heure exquise [1:59]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
8. L’absent [3:43]
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)
9. L’invitation au voyage [4:42]
10. Le manoir de Rosamonde [2:31]
11. La vie antérieure [4:01]
12. Phidylé [5:14]
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
13. Voyage [2:35]
14. La grenoullière, Op. 5 [2:02]
Jacques IBERT (1890 – 1962)
Chansons de Don Quichotte
15. Chanson du depart de Don Quichotte [3:05]
16. Chanson à Dulcinée [2:54]
17. Chanson du Duc [1:33]
18. Chanson de la morte de Don Quichotte [3:01]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
19. Chanson Romanesque [2:16]
20. Chanson épique [2:48]
21. Chanson à boire  [1:44]
Carlo Colombara (bass); Rani Calderon (piano)
rec. Red Angels Studio, Bologna, Italy, February 2007
French texts enclosed
DYNAMIC CDS583 [58:14]


Experience Classicsonline

Carlo Colombara was born in Bologna and studied there with Paride Venturi. In 1986 he was declared the best Italian singer at the renowned G.B. Viotti Competition in Vercelli. The following year, he won the "Concorso As.Li.Co." in Milan and debuted at some of Italy's most prestigious opera houses in quick succession. His great breakthrough was in 1989 when he made his La Scala debut in I vespri siciliani under Riccardo Muti. Since then he has had a successful career at the most prestigious opera-houses around the world. He has also recorded extensively and my first encounter with his powerful black-tinted voice was as the bass soloist in Verdi’s Requiem on the acclaimed Naxos recording about ten years ago. That he had lyrical capacity was obvious so it came as no surprise that he also would venture into art-song. The present collection of Mélodies Françaises, recorded in his native town a year and a half ago, is dedicated to one of the truly great performer of French songs, Gérard Souzay, who passed away in August 2004, aged 86.

According to an obituary in The New York Times Souzay’s voice was "not huge, but rich in color and tone, supple and sensual and lovely". The obituary also states that he was "a sensualist, reacting viscerally to the music and allowing it to carry him in new directions in a given concert." I presume that Carlo Colombara felt the same and wanted to go in the same direction. The great difference between the two singers is that Colombara’s voice is huge and black. I am deeply impressed that he more often than not manages to scale it down to Mélodie proportion and express so many of the finer nuances of these songs. Many of these are filled with exquisite fragrances that can only be caught in the singers’ equivalent of water-colour painting. For a grand operatic bass, whose everyday artistic life is devoted to large canvases in oil, this is no easy task and the effect is sometimes, to change the metaphor, of a Formula 1 car on a go-cart track. He sings softly, nuanced and with fine attention to the texts – delivered in good French. When revved down his super-engine loses in quality, becomes less focused, gets slightly pinched and monochrome. There is even a tendency for intonation to waver. When he then changes gear and employs his full voice it is like a new singer: thrilling, imposing, with tremendous ring – though occasionally slightly wobbly – and with dramatic conviction. The problem then is that he sometimes becomes too large for the songs. In effect it is like two different singers who try to share the same body. Souzay, despite his smaller instrument, was also able to open up and sing with rather darkish tone and a certain vibrancy but he kept within the boundaries of what could be termed ‘Gallic elegance’. 

This is not to say that it is a bad recital. Hahn’s L’heure exquise is finely shaded, the two Poulenc songs intimate and atmospheric. Throughout the programme he shows deep commitment and an understanding of the texts. It is only the hang-up that some songs become underpowered and others too overheated. In some songs the contrasts between the intimate and the outgoing are too great. He is an expressionist instead of an impressionist. 

Where he definitely scores is in the two concluding song-cycles, by Ibert and Ravel, on the theme Don Quichotte. In 1932 those two plus Delannoy, de Falla and Milhaud were asked – unknown to each other – to write music for a Don Quichotte film starring the great Feodor Chaliapin. The winner was Ibert; Ravel ended up suing the producers but in vain. His cycle was published, however, and has been quite successful without any connections with the film. It was to be his last composition. Both cycles, conceived for bass voice and one of the greatest singing actors in operatic history, give plenty of opportunities for expressivity. Comparing Colombara with Chaliapin’s own recording of the Ibert cycle I was impressed indeed. Chaliapin was unique in his self-exposition but Colombara isn’t too far behind and here all his histrionic qualities are in their element. When he fines down his voice in the final song, Chanson de la morte de Don Quichotte, he is extremely touching. He is no less accomplished in the Ravel cycle, singing the rhythmically intricate Chanson romanesque with great relish and letting his hair down in the concluding Chanson à boire.  José Van Dam sings both cycles on an Erato recording and his is a smoother approach, but bearing in mind the intended original singer with his larger-than-life image Carlo Colombara may be the more idiomatic. Van Dam also sings them with orchestral accompaniment, so the readings are more complementary than competitive. 

Rani Calderon gives good support at the piano but the recording seems less than ideally focused. There is a kind of aura around the voice that tends to blur the image slightly. As always I would have appreciated translations of the song texts. 

This recital is a bit uneven but there many good intentions are well realized and at its best – in the two concluding Don Quichotte cycles – it rises to considerable heights. 

Göran Forsling 


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