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Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)
The Song of a Life – Volume 4
rec. 2017/18, Theater Clitunno, Trevi (Perugia), Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95499 [5 CDs: 298:03]

Here is the fourth and last volume in Brilliant Classics’ mammoth project of recording all Tosti’s songs for voice and piano – close to 400 items in fact on 18 CDs. I have already reviewed volumes 1 and 3 (here) and (here), missed volume 2 but has acquired it recently and intend to review it in due time, provided the corona virus is kept in check here in Scandinavia. I had quite some misgivings about the singing in volume 1 – though I admired the singers’ willingness to find nuances in the songs and not, like some rather famous names in the past, try to break the sound-barrier through constant fortes and fortissimos. The same care over nuances was omnipresent in volume 3, and there the level of the singing was constantly more elevated than on the first volume. Unfortunately the present volume doesn’t live up to my expectations, and the worst sinners are, sad to say, some of the ladies – though with two notable exceptions. I’ll come back to that in a few moments.

We have reached the early 20th century and Tosti is well past fifty, but his inspiration still flows with undiminished power and elegance. On the first disc I was struck by the opening Parla and the first of the two little songs setting poems by Edmond Haraucourt, Si je ne t’aimais pas. (Those who haven’t read the previous reviews should know that Tosti set Italian, French and English poems with the same faiblesse.) Au temps du grand Roi! (CD 1 tr. 7), harking back to Louis XIV, is quite unusual, a pasticcio and quite entertaining. Toujours l’aimer (CD 1 tr. 17) is a setting of a poem by Sully Prudhomme, the first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Prudhomme dies in 1907 and the song was composed that year, probably as an homage to the poet. The following song from the same year, Voi dormite Signora, has a subtitle: Reminiscenze d’una canzone negra, and the accompaniment seems influenced by ragtime which was in vogue at the time. There are several other songs on this disc that are worth a listen. As for the singing soprano Maria Bagalà has a beautiful voice but also quite heavy vibrato and a bright fluttery tone. But she also, like almost all the singers in this series, sings with nuances aplenty and one gets used to her tone. Baritone John Viscardi is youthful and virile, sings with a lot of nuances and has a beautiful half-voice which he employs with nice effect in for instance Seconda Mattinata (CD 1 tr. 2).

On CD 2 we meet soprano Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi, and here we have a really classy singer. Her tone isn’t intrinsically beautiful but the way she shapes the phrases is so musical and she sings the songs as one expects from a true lieder singer. She opens the disc with one of the great Tosti songs, ‘A vucchella, which receives a very nuanced interpretation. The text is by Gabriele d’Annunzio, a poet Tosti often returned to. He was almost twenty years Tosti’s junior and was during the Great War a famous airman. Whether Ms D’Annunzio Lombardi is a relative I don’t know but she sings his songs with great feeling. The Quattro Canzoni d’Amaranta (CD 2 tr. 2 – 5) are also by him and they are beautifully sung. The best known is L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra, made famous by Caruso and later often sung in recitals by Jussi Björling. It is interesting and valuable to hear her lieder approach, sung with excellent legato. But all four are lovely songs and should be heard more often; I was in particular hooked on the last of them, Che dici parola del Saggio? And then follows a string of pearls of wonderful songs, several of them to texts by Riccardo Mazzola, a poet who died in 1922, only 30 years of age. He must have been in his teens when he wrote the poems and they obviously inspired Tosti to some of his best efforts. The very last of them, Il pescatore canta, is another highlight.

CD 3 is shared between mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Piunti and tenor Riccardo Della Sciucca. The former has had an important international career for two decades but obviously a heavy schedule with roles like Carmen, Santuzza and Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda has taken its toll on her vocal equipment – or she had a couple of bad days in July 2018 when these songs were set down. Her tone is fluttery and wobbly and gives little pleasure – apart from the concluding duet, where the two voices blend agreeably. The latter is young and promising, graduating from the Accademie del Teatro alla Scala di Milano in 2019, i. e. after this recording was made. One of his teachers was the legendary bel canto baritone Renato Bruson, and one can trace his influence in his nuanced legato singing. Listen to Who? (CD 3 tr. 3) for sensitive singing and a beautiful song or Cercando te! … (CD 3 tr. 11) where he sings with both glow and elegance. Even better is the well-known Luna d’estate (CD 3 tr. 12). The hearty march song Itala Stella (CD 3 tr. 15) from 1911 is performed with great enthusiasm and it is repeated on the following track with another text, The Allies March to the Freedom, published in 1915 to spur the soldiers and the people during the heavy days of the war. Among the other songs First Waltz (CD 3 tr. 21) should be mentioned – which is based on an Abruzzese folksong.

Also Cinzia Forte who is the soprano soloist on CD 4 has an impressive CV with appearances all over Italy and many of the great opera houses in the rest of Europe, but again the vocal capacity as displayed on this set doesn’t seem compatible with her reputation. What I hear is a fluttery and squally voice, at times unsteady and wobbly – in short a singer who is past her best. To be honest I couldn’t derive much pleasure from her readings – even though she, like almost all of her colleagues, is willing to scale down and sing softly. Her side-kick – hardly an appropriate label – is baritone Giovanni Meoni, who has been a much sought-after singer all over the world in the central Verdi roles: Germont, Renato, Amonasro, Rigoletto, Jago, to mention a few. He made his debut as long ago as 1991, but has retained his steady voice with excellent legato and lots of nuances at his disposal. A certain grittiness of tone can be discerned but by and large this is excellent singing and his readings are well-considered. Some of the songs on this disc seem less interesting than what is heard on the earlier discs but Tosti in less than premium class still has attractions. The duet Napoli (CD 4 tr. 19) is great fun.

The concluding disc is reserved for mezzo-soprano Monica Bacelli, who appears on several of the previous discs in this series. She has also a long international career behind her – or rather, she is still in the midst of it. She has a beautiful voice with great warmth and she has a way of caressing the phrases with great musicality, and sometimes – as in Help me to pray (CD 5 tr. 3) – she diminishes the voice to a girlish, innocent thread of notes that is utterly becoming. Time has not passed unnoticed for her either, there are signs of wear, but this is more than compensated by her deep understanding of the songs. She makes you listen.

A majority of the songs are settings of Gabriele d’Annunzio and she seems an ideal interpreter of them, many melancholy. True highlights are Ninna nanna, the great Non basta più and Anima mia, and among the eight songs constituting the cycle Consolazione I would like to point out Non pianger più, Tanto accadrà and Settembre. The concluding A Song of a Life, which also is the title of the whole series, is a beautiful and worthy summary of the almost 400 songs collected here. I’ll be back with a review of the missing volume 2, but even without those 71 songs this is a great tribute to the legacy of the greatest composer of Italian songs. Not all the singing has been on the level the songs deserve but it is an invaluable treat to have them collected – I doubt there will ever be a similar project again – and at Brilliant Classics’s give-away price no one needs hesitate to acquire it. Producers, researchers, singers and accompanists can feel proud of the result.

Göran Forsling

CD 1 [54:25]

1. Parla! (1903) CS 191 [3:37]
2. Seconda Mattinata (1904) CS 192 [3:12]

Deux petites Mélodies (1903) CS 193:
3. I. Si je ne t’aimais pas [1:54]
4. II. Mon amour était mort [1:30]

5. Io son l’amore (1905) CS 194 [3:39]
6. Pour un baiser (1905) CS 195 [1:45]
7. Au temps du grand Roi!(1905) CS 196 [3:43]
8. Nella notte d’april! (1905) CS 197 [1:52]
9. I am not Fair (1905) CS 198 [2:02]
10. Sola tu manchi! (1905) CS 199 [3:43]
11. Amate! (1906) CS 200 [2:48]
12. Non domando più nulla! (1906) CS 201 [2:22]
13. L’ultima canzone (1905) CS 202 [4:07]
14. Love’s Way (1906) CS 204 [2:46]
15. On dit! (1906) CS 205 [2:24]
16. Io ti sento! (1907) CS 206 [1:35]
17. Toujours l’aimer (1907) CS 207 [3:16]
18. Voi dormite Signora (1907) CS 208 [3:09]
19. Love me! (1907) CS 211 [2:09]
20. Summer (1908) CS 213 [2:05]
Maria Bagalà (soprano), John Viscardi (baritone), Glenn Morton (piano)

CD 2 [63:00]

1. ‘A vucchella (1907) CS 209 [2:26]

Quattro Canzoni d’Amaranta (1907) CS 210:
2. Lasciami! Lascia ch’io respiri [4:50]
3. L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra [2:45]
4. In van preghi [3:19]
5. Che dici parola del Saggio? [6:35]

6. Canta la serenata! (1909) CS 212 [4:30]
7. Starlight (1909) CS 214 [3:26]
8. Su la soglia (1909) CS 215 [2:50]
9. Tristezza (1908) CS 216 [4:01]
10. Se tu non torni! ... (1909) CS 217 [3:38]
11. Chitarrata abruzzese (1910) CS 218 [4:02]
12. Forse! (1910) CS 219 [4:10]
13. Napoli dorme! Napoli canta! (1910) CS 220 [2:36]
14. Once More! (1909) CS 221 [2:27]

Deux mélodies (1910) CS 222:
15. I. Je pleure [3:23]
16. II. Le mal d’aimer [2:28]

17. Il pescatore canta (1911) CS 223 [5:01]
Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi (soprano), Isabella Crisante (piano)

CD 3 [68:55]

1. Love’s Gift (1899) CS 169 [3:56]
2. Sogni d’oro! (1911) CS 224 [2:54]
3. Who? (1910) CS 225 [3:30]
4. Le temps d’un Rêve (1911) CS 226 [4:13]

Two little songs (1910) CS 227:
5. Could I But Tell! [1:20]
6. I cannot Tell [2:20]

7. Never! (1910) CS 227B [4:09]
8. Non mentire! ... (1911) CS 228 [4:31]
9. Baciami! (1911) CS 229 [3:31]
10. Canto Abruzzese (1911) CS 230 [0:59]
11. Cercando te! (1911) CS 231 [2:44]
12. Luna d’estate (1911) CS 232 [2:13]
13. Now! ... (1911) CS 233 [2:07]
14. Se tu canti ... (1911) CS 234 [4:35]
15. Itala Stella (1911) CS 235 [2:37]
16. The Allies March to the Freedom (1915) CS 244 [2:43]

Due piccolo notturni (1911) CS 236:
17. Van gli effluvi delle rose [2:01]
18. O falce di luna calante [2:26]

19. Morale allegra! ... (1911) CS 236B [0:40]
20. L’attesa! (1913) CS 237 [3:25]
21. First Waltz (1912) CS 238 [3:50]
22. Jewels in the Hedge CS 282 [3:00]
23. Shadow (The Rehearsal Duet) CS 282 [4:20]
Giuseppina Piunti (mezzo-soprano), Riccardo Della Sciucca (tenor), Isabella Crisante (piano)

CD 4 [53:48]

1. Adieu, My Dear (1890) CS 249 [3:13]
2. Back to the Old Love (1889) CS 252 [4:10]
3. More and More (1890) CS 256 [2:36]
4. Le papillon et la fleur (1883) CS 258 [2:38]
5. Remembered Still (1890) CS 259 [4:11]
6. Tutto se scorda! (1893) CS 262 [2:33]
7. While We are Young (1902) CS 263 [2:39]
8. Bimbi e neve CS 264 [2:12]
9. Chi sono? CS 278 [1:42]
10. O dolce meraviglia! (1913) CS 240 [3:00]
11. Perdutamente! (1913) CS 241 [2:13]
12. Resta nel soghno! (1916) CS 246 [2:59]
13. Charitas! CS 254 [4:03]
14. Maggio è ritornato! (1913) CS 242B [3:04]
15. Because CS 279 [1:48]
16. Bonsoir, Mignonne CS 280 [1:32]
17. Io vorrei che nessun Mago indiscreto CS 281 [2:23]
18. Song of the Letter CS 285 [3:10]
19. Napoli CS 257 [2:56]
Cinzia Forte (soprano), Giovanni Meoni (baritone), Marco Scolastra (piano)

CD 5 [57:55]

1. Ninna nanna (1912) CS 239 [3:30]
2. A Tale ot the Twilight (1893) CS 251 [5:26]
3. Help me to Pray (1885) CS 255 [5:11]
4. Tormento (1913) CS 242 [3:27]
5. Non basta più (1913) CS 242C [3:44]
6. Anima mia (1913) CS 243 [0:55]
7. Parole del ricordo mio! (1916) CS 245 [2:28]

Consolazione (1917) CS 247:
8. Non pianger più [2:13]
9. Ancora qualche rosa è ne’ rosai [1:14]
10. Tanto accadrà [1:31]
11. Perché ti neghi con lo sguardo stanco? [1:32]
12. Sogna, sogna mia cara anima [2:30]
13. Settembre [1:37]
14. Quanto ha dormito il cembalo! [1:13]
15. Mentre che fra le tende scolorite [2:58]

16. M’odi tu? CS 283 [2:47]

La Sera (1917) CS 248:
17. Introduzione [1:19]
18. Rimanete, vi prego, rimanete qui [0:39]
19. Ci ferirebbe, forse, come un dardo la luce [2:10]
20. Ma chi vide più larghi e più profondi occhi [1:27]
21. E quale cosa eguaglia nella vita del mio spirito [2:45]
22. Piangi, tu che hai nei grandi occhi la mia anima [2:58]

23. A Song of a Life CS 250 [3:50]

Monica Bacelli (mezzo-soprano), Isabella Crisante (piano)

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