Santo- Sacred Songs
Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741) Alleluja (Plaudite, sonat tuba) with Ulrich Stephan Breddermann (trumpet)
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Panis angelicus (1872)
Adolphe Charles ADAM (1803-1856) Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night) (1847)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) Qui sedes from Mass in A minor
with Luca Milani (clarinet)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Comfort ye - Ev’ry valley from Messiah (1742)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Domine Deus from Petite Messe solennelle (1864 & 1867), Qui tollis; Gratias agimus tibi from Messa di gloria (1820) with Gianluca Pellegrino (cor anglais)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Ave Maria (1825)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan from Die Schöpfung (The Creation) (1796-1798)
Ariel RAMÍREZ (1921-2010) Kyrie from Misa criolla (1964)
John Francis WADE (1711-1786) credited with Adeste fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)
Juan Diego FLÓREZ (b. 1973) Santo with Carlos Ayala (guitar), Armando ‘Pani’ Becerra (charango, siku), Edgar Espinoza Espinoza (quenas)
Juan Diego Flórez (tenor)
Nicoletta Mezzini (organ, harpsichord)
Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Paolo Vero
Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Michele Mariotti
rec. Teatro Manzoni, Bologna, Italy, 15-27 January 2010, DDD
Booklet enclosed with notes in English, French, German and sung texts in the original with translations in English, French, German
DECCA 478 2254 [67.00]
According to Flórez’s own words: “Sooner or later a tenor has to record a sacred CD; it’s part of the life of a tenor…”. With Santo, he is fulfilling what he sees as a tenor’s obligation. Whether one agrees with his statement or not is irrelevant; what is important is that although his CD contains some very popular pieces, it is neither your average recital of sacred songs nor your usual recording of Christmas Carols. To my mind, the difference is, on the one hand, the inclusion of pieces by Rossini that are seldom sung and, on the other, a short composition by Flórez himself. These features combined with carefully selected pops make for an irresistible anthology, which one will want to listen to any time of the year. It is bound to appeal to any person who loves music and singing, irrespective of their religious beliefs or lack.

Flórez is here in great form and exceptionally fine voice. In his customary style, he glides effortlessly through the coloratura pieces. He delivers sparkling vocal fireworks, as easily as if he was chatting with a friend over lunch and this is accomplished in his crystal clear trademark manner. Additionally, his impeccable legato and elegant, refined phrasing shine through in the more delicate and intimate songs.
The most accomplished moments of this recital are arguably the compositions by Rossini. I say arguably because Flórez’s singing is outstanding in every single piece. That said it is patent that Rossini is the composer whose music he feels most comfortable with. He states as much in the booklet notes when he says that “Rossini is special; it clicks well…”!
In Santo, Flórez offers three pieces by Rossini, two of which, Qui tollis and Gratias agimus tibi, from the composer’s Messa di Gloria, are seldom heard. I cannot remember any tenor in recent times that has recorded them or even sung them in concert. Both pieces are ideal for his voice and very much in the bel canto tradition of the first half of the 19th Century, with which Flórez has made his name. The pieces were originally written for two different tenors but he decided to do both and delivers them with exceptional quality: His technique is flawless and while he undoubtedly chose them to showcase his voice, he never allows virtuosity to overwhelm the music. His performance is tasteful, well judged and incredibly beautiful. The third Rossini offering is Domine Deus from his better known Petite Messe solennelle and again Flórez’s performance is simply superb, giving the listener the impression that the composer had him specifically in mind when writing the piece. Staying with thebel canto repertoire of the first half of the 19th Century, the tenor then gives us a piece by Bellini, Qui sedes, from the composer’s Mass in A Minor. It is a lovely, melodic excerpt introduced by a rather pretty clarinet solo, lovingly played by Luca Milani. Flórez does it full justice delivering the goods with great sensibility and bright, sparkling high notes that warm the heart.
Besides Rossini and Bellini, Flórez sings - and I believe for the first time - Handel and Haydn. Handel is a logical choice for a tenor of his kind: The composer’s writings for voice fall definitely in the bel canto category, as he often composed for some of the greatest castrato singers of his time and, as is generally known, the notion of bel canto comes from the age of the castrati. Haydn is perhaps a choice that one would not immediately associate with Juan Diego Flórez but he does sing Mozart rather beautifully; so why not Haydn? Besides, who wouldn’t wish to sing something from Die Schöpfung, one of the composer’s most magnificent works and arguably his masterpiece? Flórez’s rendition of Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan is exceptionally sung; he is convincing and appears to feel the text deeply, even though, in the booklet notes, he says that the German language does not come naturally to his Latin sensibility! While this may be true - he appears slightly hesitant with some words, particularly where a vowel has an “umlaut” as in breitgewölbt or Frühlings - or a word has the “ch” sound as in aufgerichtet or lächelt - he sings with great clarity and expression, and does not sound artificial at all. On the other hand, his reading of Handel’s Comfort ye - Ev’ry valley did not quite convince me. The piece is technically flawless, effectively delivered; however, it comes across as a little too academic and dry, lacking emotion. While Flórez may feel comfortable with English, it actually appears otherwise.
As for the most popular pieces in this recital, the singing is also excellent: Fux’s Alleluia really suits his voice and he does a great job with it, engaging in a joyful “dialogue” with the clear trumpet playing of Ulrich Stephan Breddermann who is in strong form here. Franck’s Panis angelicus, Wade’s Adeste fideles or Ramírez’s Kyrie are for a singer of Flórez’s calibre almost like a walk in the park! He sails through them with effortless confidence and his youthful, bright timbre gives the pieces an appealing freshness that I have seldom heard before. For Schubert’s Ave Maria, Flórez chose to sing the better known text in Latin, which reflects the traditional Roman Catholic prayer “Ave Maria”, instead of the lesser known original, which was part of a set of seven songs that Schubert wrote for Walter Scott’s epic poem The Lady of the Lake. I was slightly disappointed with his choice; however, the delicacy of his legato line and the subtle manner in which he performs the piece more than compensate for the religious text, which differs from the context of Scott’s poem. As for Adam’s Cantique de Noël, Flórez cleverly decided to sing the first strophe in French and the second in English, which appeals to a wider audience. His interpretation of Adam’s piece, which is too often (and not so well) sung, is truly radiant. It is not a difficult piece to sing for a tenor like Flórez but he sings it with irresistible warmth. I found his rendition deeply moving and it made me really enjoy the song as if I was hearing it for the first time.
Finally and as the last offer of the CD, Flórez introduces a composition of his own, Santo, which gives the album its title. It is a short piece (only 3:38) and it clearly demonstrates the tenor’s confidence in himself as an artist. In the notes, he states that composing and orchestrating are his hobby, thus indicating that he is not completely serious about it; however, he was serious enough to record it. It is a religious piece of sorts. The lyrics refer to the Lord God of the Universe and that heaven and earth are full of His glory. It draws deeply on Flórez’s own national roots, with Peruvian folk music and rhythms, as well as real Peruvian instruments and a reference to the Peruvian Andes in the text. To me, these Peruvian features are what make the piece attractive and give it a certain originality. The melody is pretty enough and designed to make his voice shine, which it does. There are some interesting orchestral moments and his use of the chorus is respectable, underlining the natural beauty of his tone and lending the piece some class.
The orchestra and coro del Teatro Communale di Bologna are in excellent form throughout and are effectively led by young Michelle Mariotti, a sympathetic conductor very much in tune with Flórez’s artistry and style of singing.
All in all and although I am not one who really goes for sacred music, I thoroughly enjoyed this recital. The recording is elegant and stylish from an accomplished, confident artist, at the top of his powers. The singing is outstanding and one easily forgets that one is listening to sacred music, as it refreshingly feels like a night at the opera!
Margarida Mota-Bull
An elegant and stylish recital from an accomplished and confident artist.