Italian Songs and Ballads
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916) Malia [3:11]; ‘A vucchella (Arietta di Posillipo) [2:42]; L’ultima canzone [4:46]; Aprile [3:28]; Non t’amo più [5:36]; Luna d’estate [5:36]; La serenata [3:20]; Ideale [3:22]; Marechiare [2:55]; L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra [2:22]; Partir c’est mourir un peu (Song of farewell) [2:36]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945) Serenata - Come col capo sotto l’ala bianca [3:48]
Stefano DONAUDY (1879-1925) O del mio amato ben [4:05]
Stefano Secco (tenor); David Abramovitz (piano)
rec. Terzosuonoproduction Mobile Studio, Paris, France, 27-31 April 2009
text and translations available at the Naxos website
NAXOS 8.572471 [47:47]

The very name Tosti may well conjure up memories of a parade of Italian singers from Caruso to Schipa to Pavarotti. These are songs that are written to show off the voice at its best, sweetly sentimental maybe but beautifully written and responding to sympathetic treatment. Tosti himself came from a very poor background in the east of Italy but rose to become a favorite of the Queen of Italy. His visit to London in 1875 was the start of even greater success, including appointment as singing teacher to the Royal Family, the granting of British citizenship and eventually in 1906 a Knighthood.

Any defence of these songs has to begin by accepting them for what they are. They are certainly not musically adventurous and there is more than a little family resemblance between them. Nonetheless they have charm in abundance and provided you do not seek for deeper meaning, novelty or complexity they offer much to enjoy. I have to admit to doing so enormously in almost any performance but they blossom best when the singer aims to charm rather than bludgeon the listener, and when they have the original piano accompaniment or at any rate a straightforward orchestration. There are many performances on disc that are ruined by inflated or anachronistic orchestral accompaniments. The simple charm of the original piano versions is almost always best, and that is what this disc has, played sympathetically by David Abramovitz.

It would be easy but unfair to compare Stefano Secco with the great singers who have recorded these songs in the past. He is a young singer who has sung a variety of the leading tenor roles in Italian opera. Despite having Franco Corelli as his teacher he is prepared to sing quietly and sensitively when required, and if at present he lacks the flexibility and variety of expression needed to make the most of the songs he is aware of their general style and how to put across their simple charms. I am sure that he would have made a great success in the kind of salon for which they were written. I enjoyed the recital throughout its rather modest length - a few more songs would have been welcome - and at times even found myself wishing that Naxos had announced it as Volume 1 of Tosti’s complete songs. Given the narrow character range of these songs that is quite an achievement on the part of the performers.

John Sheppard

Musically unadventurous but charm in abundance and much to enjoy.