When I grew up Toselli’s Serenata
heard on the radio in various arrangements. It was so well known
that it was mentioned in a pop song: ‘From the hotel is
heard a trio in Toselli’s serenade’. And who was
Toselli? Nobody knew and nobody asked. He was the man who wrote
Toselli’s serenade - Period. And he shared this fate with
some other one-piece composers: Boccherini’s minuet, Sinding’s Rustle
, Mascagni’s intermezzo from Cavalleria
to mention just three. Today we know that these
three were prolific … but Toselli?
A child prodigy, born in Florence, he made his debut as pianist
at the age of ten. Between 1897 and 1907 he toured extensively,
not only in Europe but also in Africa (Cairo and Alexandria)
and in America, where he attended fifty music festivals. He even
played with Pablo Casals in London and in the USA. He composed,
mainly salon music, and his Serenata
was published as
his Op. 6 in 1900, when he was seventeen. The front page of the
first edition is reprinted in the booklet. It was originally
written for violin and pianoforte. In 1907 he suddenly married
a thirteen years older former princess, who had escaped her husband.
The cover photo shows them together in 1910, and at least Toselli
looks happy. That happiness didn’t last very long. Unfortunately
their liasion caused such a scandal that Enrico’s career
was ruined. He died at the age of 43, totally forgotten - except
for the little violin piece that could be heard everywhere, without
anyone bothering about its originator.
Until now. When pianist and historian Leonardo Previero, with
a special interest in what is generally known as the Belle
- the decades around the turn of the last century
- found these twenty songs and decided that they should be heard
by today’s music-lovers. Here is also the little Serenata
which was once sung by Caruso and Gigli under the title Rimpianto.
of these songs were composed after the marriage with the Princess
Luisa of Hapsburg-Lorraine had crashed and Toselli found himself
a second wife. There are even two songs from an opera, La
(1913). Whether the title refers to
the princess he had just separated from is beyond my knowledge.
Don’t expect to find on this disc sensational masterpieces.
The history books will not have to be rewritten and Toselli will
continue to be a name in the margin. But those who appreciate
the songs of Tosti and his contemporaries - and I know they are
many - should be happy to find melodious, well-crafted songs
in the same mould. Many of them are likely to attract singers
and, it is hoped, to be included in recital programmes, at least
as encores. I will certainly return to some of them when I am
in belle époque
but the opening number, L’enfant
, a contemplative
setting of a beautiful poem by Victor Hugo, is atmospheric. La
(tr. 3) has a certain likeness with Erik
Satie’s cabaret songs. I also found Viole bianche
to my taste and, in a contrasting mood, darker and more dramatic, Cantate
The melancholy, autumnal Impressioni d’autunno
10) is arguably the finest track on the disc, in competition
with L’ultima serenata
(tr. 20). Others may find
their own favourites.
The accompaniments are mostly just accompaniments and there are
few traces of the composer’s background as an international
piano virtuoso. In L’ultima serenata
, however, there
is both an instrumental introduction and an interlude. The playing
of Leonardo Previero is tasteful and discreet.
The married couple Daniela Dessi and Fabio Armiliato have long
been leading names on international opera stages but here they
turn out to be just as attuned to the intimate scale of songs.
Dessi’s voice is in prime condition, slightly hard at the
top but employed with taste and feeling. There is always a risk
that a large operatic voice insensitively used can kill songs
of this kind but Ms Dessi’s singing is very often restrained
and lyrical. She lets the music speak without superimposing too
much ‘interpretation’ on them.
Fabio Armiliato is even better. His is one of the most glorious
tenor voices now before the public with a heroic ring and brilliance
up high that reminds me of Mario Del Monaco at his best - but
without the excessive use of lung-power that his older compatriot
too often utilized. But he also has a warmth and beauty in the
middle register and a willingness to scale down to chamber size
that makes him more or less ideal for this repertoire. His pianissimos
are often ravishing and his phrasing stylish.
The recording is excellent and the booklet has useful information
about the composer - the biographical details in this review
are culled from these notes - artists’ bios and the sung
texts, but no translations.
These century-old songs have aged in beauty and are well worth
getting to know - especially when they are so sensitively sung.