Melodies of Love and Death
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Song to the moon (from Rusalka) [5:41]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Addio del passato (from La Traviata) [4:40]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Habanera (from Carmen) [3:52]
La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (from Carmen) [4:41]
Carreau, pique (from Carmen) [2:58]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Una furtiva lagrima (from L’elisir d’amore) [2:55]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
E lucevan le stelle (from Tosca) [4:26]
LeoŠ JANÁčEK (1854-1928)
Love duet - Fox and Vixen (from The Cunning Little Vixen) [5:21]
Sola, perduta, abbandonata (from Manon Lescaut) [4:30]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Pourquoi me réveiller (from Werther) [3:32]
Tu che di gel sei cinta (from Turandot) [3:12]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Dieux, viens aider ma faiblesse / Mon coeur s’ouvre ŕ ta voix (from Samson et Dalila) [9:25]
Che gelida manina (from La Bohčme) [4:22]
Un bel di vedremo (from Madama Butterfly) [4:17]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein (from Der Rosenkavalier) [6:46]
All arrangements by Bob Zimmerman
Osiris Trio (Ellen Corver (piano), Peter Brunt (violin), Larissa Groeneveld (cello)
rec. June 2010, the Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile, Italy.

I approached this disc with high expectations. I enjoy good opera arrangements, and this album listed an unbeatable combination of all-time favorites. Regrettably, the program is the best thing about it. The performance is good, the recording is acceptable, but the arrangements themselves do not pay full justice to the sources. They reminded me of the numerous albums of easy classical transcriptions for beginner pianists.

There exists a good way to look at Bob Zimmerman’s arrangements: since they are not very difficult to play, this set can be regarded as a welcome addition to the existing literature for the amateur piano trio. If you happen to participate in such trio, it might be worth finding the sheet music of these arrangements, because the tunes are beautiful, the arrangements provide a good picture of the original and allow you to be expressive.

It seems that less song-like numbers inspired the arranger to go further, stirred more creativity. This is most notable in Puccini and Janáček – and this may be the reason why I liked the second part of the album more: it has more Puccini. Or maybe I just adapted to the style. The more standard numbers received the simplest treatment, which often sounds plain. Bob Zimmerman never goes too far away from the original. There is almost no variation or improvisatory component. This is good old transcription.

It’s not all so bad, but some numbers spoil the picture. For example, the opening song from Rusalka is promising. The arrangement, while not too imaginative, is well balanced, the performance is unhurried and expressive. The unsettling “devil’s trills” at the end sound very apposite. But after it, imagine Addio del passato, Verdi at his most moving. Now add to it the piano accompaniment: bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang... On the same note. Loud. Harsh. The piano calms down in the second part, but the strings sing with such edge as if it were a Gypsy romance.

Don Jose’s aria is good – as are generally all places where the cello takes the lead. Suddenly there is depth and fantasy, sonorities and solutions begin to vary. But Habanera was turned into vulgar “café music”, and the loud, cutting piano bangs the ears!

As I said, the Puccini numbers are the most successful. E lucevan le stelle has the necessary impact; it is dark and tragic, albeit too melodramatic for my taste. Sola, perduta, abbandonata preserves well the mood of the original aria, and I already can excuse the hard, painful piano. Tu che di gel sei cinta is intense, Che gelida manina is not bad, but Un bel di vedremo is watery.

A similar “watery” style of the arrangement, especially of the piano, suits well the sweet timelessness of Strauss’s Duet. Something though is missing to make it emotionally convincing, hence it sounds phony. Its frolicsome ending is done well. Janáček’s duet is an interesting, non-standard guest, and it comes out excellently. The piano part is bare, but the strings compensate with an expressive enactment. I liked the deeply emotional rendition of Massenet. The second part of Una furtiva lagrima is interesting. Dalila’s two central arias become ecstatic. The good balance of the three instruments is found here: if only the entire album was like this!

All in all, this is a disc of “reception music” – fair and square. It’s OK for listening in the background, but do not expect breathtaking moments. It never approaches, for example, the wonderful level of the “Aria – Opera Without Words” album by Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Decca, which is a constant source of pleasure for me. I can’t say that the performers add something extra to the notes, but they always choose very good tempi. The recording quality is generally good, but the recording balance does not favor the cello, and the loudest piano notes bang the ears. I listened to this disc twice, and have no intention of returning to it ever again.

Oleg Ledeniov

“Reception music” – fair and square.