Enrico TOSELLI (1883 - 1926)
Le romanze ritrovate
1. L’enfant [3:22]
2. Serenata (Rimpianto) [2:45]
3. La bella birichina [2:32]
4. Fuggente ebbrezza [2:37]
5. Viole bianche [1:28]
6. Cantate de Bettine [2:53]
7. Una barca vuota [2:33]
8. Mattinata [2:15]
9. Spera! [1:01]
10. Impressioni d’autunno [3:57]
11. Notte nostalgica (La seconda serenata) [1:51]
12. L’istante benedetto sia (from La principessa bizzarra) [1:52]
13. Il canto del dolore (from La principessa bizzarra) [3:08]
14. Lévres menteuses [1:52]
15. Fior d’amaranto [1:02]
16. Nell’aria della sera [1:07]
17. Dormi bimbo [2:52]
18. Voce d’amore [2:05]
19. La primavera dell’emigrato [2:36]
20. L’ultima serenata [3:56]
Daniela Dessi (soprano) (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19); Fabio Armiliato (tenor) (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20); Leonardo Previero (piano)
rec. Gustav Mahler Saal, Toblach/Dobbiaco, Italy, 4-6 September 2003
Sung texts enclosed
REAL SOUND RS 051-0105 [47:53]

When I grew up Toselli’s Serenata was regularly 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 of Spring, Mascagni’s intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana 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 Epoque - 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. Many 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 principessa bizzarra (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 mood. Serenata is self-recommending but the opening number, L’enfant, a contemplative setting of a beautiful poem by Victor Hugo, is atmospheric. La bella birichina (tr. 3) has a certain likeness with Erik Satie’s cabaret songs. I also found Viole bianche much to my taste and, in a contrasting mood, darker and more dramatic, Cantate de Bettine.

The melancholy, autumnal Impressioni d’autunno (tr. 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.

Göran Forsling