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Joseph Calleja (tenor)
Track details at end of review
BBC Concert Orchestra/Steven Mercurio
rec. March and June 2013. No venue details given
DECCA 4785340 [70.41]

In my usual manner when receiving a new vocal CD for review, I put it in the player and listen as background rather than for review purposes. I do this to get a general feel before attending seriously to each item and coming to conclusions.

My first impression from the sound-picture and the orchestral backing was that I was listening to a crossover album. I know of this singer as someone who is making his name in opera at the best addresses. I have admired him for his skill in that field. Knowing many of the songs concerned I was soon brought to reality. The presentation, even allowing for the singer’s artistry, is in a different league from the likes of Caruso, Gigli, Schipa, Tagliavini and Bergonzi, all native Italians, who often sang these songs in recital and which are included in many reissue discs. These great predecessors were not into crossover and played the songs as Paolo Tosti or Ernesto de Curtis wrote them.

Now well into his thirties Joseph Calleja (b.1978) stands as one of the leading lyric tenors of his generation, surpassed in popular recognition and acclaim only by Jonas Kaufmann, but with the advantage of a more Mediterranean warmth of tone. Striving to hear through the over-opulent orchestral arrangements and sound one can discern Calleja's vocal quality with the odd piece of honeyed mezza voce, diminuendo or expressive phrase. For my ears the whole smacks too much of the Mario Lanza approach in terms of orchestration and vocal forza. Calleja has far greater vocal variation and sensitivity than he or the orchestration allows him to show here.

He has featured on BBC Radio Three’s Last Night of the Proms. Decca seem to be building on this to which it adds that the disc is 'in homage to Mario Lanza'. OK, I have to live in the real world of marketing; I just hope the hype and the pressure to be popular does not lead him away from the operatic stage which is desperately short of the vocal qualities that he possesses and which are not necessarily required, or often evidenced, in this collection of over-elaborate arrangements. As I write this he is due to sing Riccardo in the Royal Opera House production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. He will be following in the footsteps of Pavarotti and Bergonzi, the latter whom I heard live. Both those great tenors used their Italianate tone and vocal skills to illuminate Verdi’s writing. Calleja has rare qualities of vocal tone and musical intelligence. He will bring similar skills to one of Verdi’s greatest creations for the lyric tenor voice with its demand for legato and expression among the vocal demands; this allied to natural beauty of tone. I hope Decca record him in the role. It will serve his legacy better than these overblown arrangements of songs and other vocal pieces. They leave me far too often thinking of a Mercedes engine in a Ford Popular.

Robert J Farr

Track Details
1. La Serenata. Paolo Tosti arr. Peter Hope [3.15]
2. Bésame. Mucho Consuelo Velasquez as transcribed for Mario Lanza by Steven Mercurio [3.11]
3. Time To Say Goodbye (Con ti partiro). Francesco Sartori, arr. by Paul Bateman [4.10]
4. Caruso. Lucia Dalla, arr. Paul Bateman [3.29]
5. La Vie En Rose. Louiguy arr. Paul Bateman, Edith Piaf 4.12]
6. Love Theme (Tema d'amore) from film Paradiso, arr. Chris Hazel [3.47]
7. En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor. orch. Lorin Maazel after Rodrigo [4.10]
8. You Raise Me Up. Rolf Loveland arr. Steven Mercurio [4.53]
9. La Califfa. Enrico Morricone arr. John Lenehan [4.23]
10. Mattinata. Ruggero Leoncavallo. arr. Lorin Maazel 2.44]
11. Ideale. Paolo Tosti arr. Steven Mercurio [3.51]
12. Musica Proibita. Stanislao Gastaldon. arr. Peter Hope [3.25]
13. Core n'grato. Salvatore Cardillo, arr. Peter Hope [3.03]
14. Non ti scordar di me. Ernesto de Curtis. arr. Steven Mercurio [3.51]
15. No puede ser. Pablo Sorozabal. arr. Frederico Romero [2.30]
16. Vaghissima sembianza. Stefano Donaudy, arr. Steven Mercurio [3.14]
17. Net, tolko tot, kto znal. (None But The Lonely Heart) Op.6, No.6. Peter Tchaikovsky arr. Chris Hazell [3.37]
18. In mir klingt ein Lied. arr. G Knaifel after Chopin Étude in E major, Op.10 No.3 [4.16]
19. O Sole Mio. Eduardo de Capua. transcr. from an original arrangement for Mario Lanza by Paul Bateman [4.36]