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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Songs and Duets
Soirées musicales (ca. 1830-35):
La promessa [3:42]; Il rimprovero [3:22]; L'orgia  [3:25]; La partenza [4:38]; L'invito [3:37]; La pastorella dell'Alpi [2:28]; La danza [3:15]; La gita in gondola [6:19]; La pesca [3:53]; La serenata [4:10]; La regata veneziana [4:26]
Péchés de vieillesse (1857-68):
L'esule [4:22]; Mi lagnerò tacendo [2:46]; La chanson du bébé [2:44]; L'orpheline du Tyrol [5:04]; Adieux à la vie! [4:29]; Les amants de Séville [5:27]; Anzoleta avanti la regata [3:30]; Anzoleta co passa la regata [2:17]; Anzoleta dopo la regata [3:58]
Miah Persson (soprano); Stella Doufexis (mezzo); Bruce Ford (tenor); Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, 18-20 April 2007, DDD
Booklet notes in English, French and German; sung texts in the original in Italian or French with English translation; Artists biographies in English only
HYPERION CDA67647 [78.59]
Experience Classicsonline

In my review of Alessandro Marangoni’s wonderful Naxos recording of Péchés de vieillesse, I mentioned that the Rossini operas tend to overshadow his later works. This might possibly be one of the main reasons why they are so often neglected. This is particularly true of his songs: both the collection that forms Les Soirées musicales as well as the pieces included in the fourteen volumes of Péchés de vieillesse.
 
Being a great admirer of Rossini’s late works, I became quite excited at the prospect of listening to and reviewing an entire CD of his songs, with excellent singers accompanied by a wonderful pianist. This recital offering from Hyperion does not disappoint. It is very enjoyable, with delightful performances by Swedish soprano Miah Persson, German-Greek mezzo Stella Doufexis and American tenor Bruce Ford. Roger Vignoles - one of Britain’s most outstanding musicians - accompanies and is excellent from beginning to end.
 
Rossini’s songs are wonderful little gems for a variety of reasons; not only because of their wit and humour but also because they express a wide range of emotions, from sadness and melancholy to happiness and joyful love. The first eight pieces are possibly the most famous and make the biggest impact. Musically, they are based on popular dance forms and national dances. La partenza, beautifully sung by Bruce Ford, is in the tempo of a minuet; La pastorella dell’Alpi suitably follows the slow rhythm of a waltz from Landel (a region in the North of Austria). The most celebrated of them all, La danza deploys a dazzling Neapolitan tarantella. This is a fabulous song, a show-piece for a tenor, which was made famous in recent years by the late Luciano Pavarotti. He sang it with unequalled vivid and vibrant expression, excelling in the higher notes, giving the piece a virtuosic edge that never failed to excite audiences. Bruce Ford delivers the piece very effectively, appearing to delight in its rhythm and youthful tone but there is a little strain in his voice in the more difficult passages. The song is a lively encouragement to love, leading young couples to dance. Ford expresses these feelings with sufficient energy but he lacks the natural exuberance of a native Italian, or of a Latin singer; and I must confess that I missed Pavarotti’s interpretation.
 
The first time I heard Swedish soprano Miah Persson was at the 2006 Glyndebourne Festival where she sang Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. I was impressed with her beautiful legato, delicate phrasing and deeply-felt sentiment. She brings these qualities to her interpretation of Rossini’s songs and duets, with particular brilliance in La promessa and Adieu à la vie. She delivers La chanson du bébé with great humour and excellent comic timing, revelling in the playful sounds that the baby makes. She is equally excellent in the love duet with Ford, La serenata, a piece which is as lyrical as it is elegant, delivered convincingly and with grace by both singers.
 
Stella Doufexis is an established singer who has worked with some of the greatest conductors of the present day including Haitink, Rattle and Abbado. She possesses a rich tone, beautifully modulated phrasing and convincing expression. These qualities shine in the duet with Persson La regata veneziana from Les Soirées musicales and especially in the three canzonette of La regata veneziana from Péchés de vieillesse. Here Doufexis excels in expressing the different moods that the songs describe and using her warm, round mezzo voice to best effect. Her rendition is graceful and pleasantly passionate, particularly in the last song. She is never over-sentimental or too emotional. I was a little disappointed by her performance in the duet with Ford Les amants de Séville, where I thought her interpretation was a little dry. She does not sing with the same fluid ease displayed in her solo songs and appears slightly uncomfortable. Rossini wrote this beautiful duet for tenor and contralto. This is not a very common combination and is actually understandable that a mezzo-soprano, like Doufexis, excellent though she is, seems not to feel at home at this point. Ford on the other hand, sings his part convincingly, demonstrating here why he has managed a very successful career for over two decades.
 
On the whole, the three singers deliver beautiful interpretations of Rossini’s wonderful late pieces. They are superbly accompanied by Roger Vignoles. His playing, like Rossini’s writing, is sophisticated and skilful, brilliantly supporting the vocal line but with expressive individuality. Here it is impossible to forget the omnipresent piano as can sometimes happen with some pianists when they accompany singers. The piano intelligently cushions the singers but it is a soloist in its own right - almost a fourth voice - which sets the perfect background that sustains the three human voices.
 
This CD of Rossini’s songs and duets is not only a delightful, enjoyable recording but it also makes a compelling case for singers to include the composer’s late works in their recital repertoire. Les soirées musicales and the vocal pieces from Péchés de vieillesse really deserve to be recorded as a full programme. The most famous songs are sporadically included in recitals and CDs, particularly by tenors but these charming, witty and accomplished pieces merit more. Hyperion, Ford, Doufexis, Persson and Vignoles should be congratulated for their achievement; very pleasing and distinguished.
 
Margarida Mota-Bull
 

 


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