The old saying cautions that you can’t judge a book by
its cover. On this occasion I’d suggest that you can
this CD by its cover. The cover consists of a charming photograph
of Dame Felicity and Miss Moretti relaxing on a sofa, wearing
black full-length evening gowns. The two ladies look a picture
of sophisticated elegance and the performances on this delectable
disc are similarly sophisticated and elegant.
The disc is primarily Miss Moretti’s project and seven
of the fifteen items in the programme, including all the more
substantial offerings, are harp solos. She tells us in the booklet
note that her intention was to devise a programme “which
would convey my joy in making the harp sing.” She had the
happy idea to invite a singer to participate and the invitation
to Dame Felicity duly followed.
The vocal items are at the centre of the programme. All give
immense pleasure. The song by Paul Bernard is a pretty slight
piece of music but Dame Felicity sings it with charm and poise.
It’s followed by Parlez-moi d’amour
, a winning
waltz-song that was a big hit for the French chanteuse
Lucienne Boyer. It’s a gift for Dame Felicity, whose performance
is simply delectable. She’s a noted exponent of mélodies
lives up to her reputation with superb deliveries of the early
Debussy piece and of the Poulenc item, which is here heard as
originally conceived by Poulenc, for voice and harp. Of the two
Britten folksong arrangements that of Quand j’étais
chez mon père
is much to be preferred, in my view,
to that of The Last Rose of Summer
. Britten’s realisation
of the latter song is over-elaborate and rather overwhelms the
essentially simple melody. It may be significant that the arrangement
of the French tune is a much earlier one; it seems to be truer
to the character of the original melody. Both performances on
this disc, however, are top class.
On either side of the vocal pieces we hear Miss Moretti in a
selection of harp solos. The German, Albert Zabel, was successively
principal harpist at the Berlin Opera and the Imperial Ballet
in St Petersburg. In the piece chosen by Miss Moretti he constructs
an elaborate fantasia on themes from Gounod’s celebrated
opera. To be honest, it’s perhaps a little long for its
material but Miss Moretti performs it with sensitivity and great
finesse. Opera also provides the inspiration for the piece by
the harpist, Elias Parish Alvars, who was born in England but
spent most of his career in continental Europe. Berlioz, no less,
dubbed him ‘the Liszt of the Harp’. His variations
on themes from Bellini’s Norma
even if, like the Zabel, the piece is perhaps a touch too extensive.
Miss Moretti plays it superbly.
Appropriately, music by the ‘Liszt of the Harp’ is
followed by the real thing in the shape of a transcription by
Liszt of a Russian song, The Nightingale
. Liszt transcribed
the song for piano and his transcription was, in turn, transcribed
for the harp in 1934 by the harpist Henriette Renié (1875-1956).
We learn from the useful booklet notes that there’s a link
between this item and the very first piece on the disc. The song
by Alexander Alabiev that Liszt transcribed was used by Rossini
in the singing lesson in his opera Il barbiere di Siviglia.
transcription of the final trio from that same opera made by
the harpist Nicolas-Charles Boscha is a dazzling, light opener
to the recital.
Towards the end of the programme we’re treated to Godefroid’s
version of Le Carnaval de Venise
. In fact the famous
tune only appears 3:37 into the piece, which may give a hint
of the elaborateness of Godefroid’s composition. It’s
rather a succulent musical sweetmeat and Miss Moretti plays it
Dame Felicity reappears at the very end of the proceedings to
sing Over the Rainbow
. This song, with the harp accompaniment
arranged by Miss Moretti, proves to be a delicious envoi
setting the seal on a most entertaining recital.
This disc is somewhat off my usual reviewing beat and I suppose
that now is the time to come clean. Though I blush to say so,
it was the prospect of hearing Dame Felicity Lott, one of my
favourite singers, which made me ask to review the disc. But
I ended up by being equally captivated by the artistry of Isabelle
Moretti. For sheer entertainment and artistic excellence this
CD will take some beating. It’s a delectable experience
and I can only urge you to hear it for yourself and surrender
to its charms.