The French Collection
Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Diana Damrau (soprano)
Orchestre de L’Opéra National de Lyon/Alain Altinoglu
rec. Auditorium Maurice Ravel, Lyon, 2014
Sung texts with English and German translations enclosed
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 4101 [62:51]

Polish-born Piotr Beczala has steadily been making himself a name in the international opera circuit for more than ten years and I have had opportunities to praise his singing on a couple of occasions. The first, as far as I remember, was a DVD of a performance of Don Giovanni in Zurich 2006 – he was Don Ottavio – and the same year, although in Munich, he was Prince Sou-Chong in a CPO recording of Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns – and a tremendously good one at that. That was eight years before the present recital disc was set down, and eight years can be a long time for a tenor who is now approaching 50. Make no mistake though: He sings with all the intensity we have come to expect, with golden tone and expert phrasing – things that were also hallmarks of José Carreras. Like his predecessor he can also sing nuances like mf and p without losing quality but there have crept in less attractive features. There's a hardness of tone at forte that jars a bit, the vibrato has become wider and there is an added layer of something less valuable than the gold that used to shimmer in his voice. The smoothness that could caress the ear like silk is inevitably gone. All these are signs of ageing. The musicality is still evident but the elegance of delivery has faded away and like so many tenors in this situation he tries to compensate by singing more strongly. Not all is lost and there are beautifully turned phrases in many places. In the aria from La Damnation de Faust he seduces us with some really beautiful pianissimo singing, where we sit up and whisper: this is the real thing.

The comparison with Carreras is close in many places, and also with Giuseppe Di Stefano from an even earlier generation. These were wholehearted singers who tended to overload their beautiful voices. Don’t despair, dear reader. There are delicacies to come, making this recital well worth a listen. One can’t really resist his deeply involved Don Carlos, and Boieldieu’s Viens, gentile dame is most lovingly sung with some taxing high notes in the bargain. In the reprise he really makes amends for some excessively beefy singing elsewhere, with a near-falsetto that is achingly beautiful. Ange si pur from La Favorite is also sensitively sung with plenty of nuance. The end of the Flower Song could serve as an instruction manual for young tenors. Back to Donizetti, the brilliant high notes in Ange celeste from Don Sébastien are not effortless but they are spot-on and steady.

The recital started with Massenet and we return to him in the final number. Manon was for long the most popular of Massenet´s operas and it holds its own even today, although Werther has passed it in popularity. The title role needs a great singing-actor with the voice of an angel – and here is one: Diana Damrau, who is glorious with those ethereal pianissimos. Beczala too is in good form and together they bring the recital to a thrilling end, supported with brio by the Orchestre de L’Opéra National de Lyon under the much sought after Alain Altinoglu.

This isn’t a bad recital – as I hope I have made clear – but I wish it had been recorded five years ago when Beczala was still in his prime.

Göran Forsling

Previous review: Michael Cookson (Recording of the Month)

Track listing
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
1. Toute mon âme est là! … Pourquoi me réveiller [3:07]
Le Cid:
2. Ah! Tout est bien fini! ... Ô Souverain, ô juge, ô père [5:26]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803 – 1869)
La Damnation de Faust:
3. Merci, doux crépuscule! [5:25]
Beatrice et Bénédict:
4. Ah! Je vais l’aimer [3:01]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Don Carlos:
5. Fontainebleau! Forêt immense ... Je i’ai vue, et dans son sourire [4:54]
François-Adrien BOIELDIEU (1775 – 1834)
La Dame blanche:
6. Maintenant observons ... Viens, gentile dame [9:16]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
La Favorite:
7. Ange si pur [3:49]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
Roméo et Juliette:
8. L’amour! L’amour! ... Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! [4:41]
9. Salut! Demeure chaste et pure [5:06]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
10. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée [4:44]
Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal:
11. Seul sur la terre ... Ange céleste [5:14]
12. Toi! Vous! – Oui, c’est moi ... N’est-ce plus ma main [8:04]


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