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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ad una stella [3:16]
Ave Maria [5:40]
Chi i bei dý m'adduce ancora [2:51]
Deh pietoso oh Addolorata [4:24]
Il poveretto [2:56]
Il tramonto [3:22]
In solitaria stanza [3:58]
L'esule [8:14]
La seduzione [3:29]
La Zingara [2:08]
Lo spazzacamino [2:25]
Nell'orror di notte oscura [3:10]
Non t'accostare all'urna [4:19]
Perduta ho lo pace [4:31]
Stornello [1:44]
Margaret Price (soprano)
Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
Rec. April 1986, Mozartsaal, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 419 621-2 [57:24]

There’s a reason why we remember Schubert for his songs and Verdi for his operas: neither man was particularly good at the other genre. There’s a very real sense, therefore, in which the prospect of a full disc of Verdi songs is an intrinsically slight thing. However, it’s also in its own way very satisfying, and I can’t think of many voices in whose company I would rather explore the repertoire than that of the late, great Dame Margaret Price.

I don’t know what pushed Price to record this disc of under-explored repertoire back in 1986, but she has given us a valuable window into a world of song that few of us would otherwise have entered. (My rudimentary Google search rendered up very few alternative discs of similar repertoire.)

The songs themselves are pretty conventional in form, and mostly bear the same shape as many of Verdi’s operatic arias: an opening expression followed by a counter-theme and exploration, after which the opening music returns in some form. The poetry is also rather slight in pretty much every case, and you should look elsewhere if you seek psychological penetration or emotional insights. However, that’s not intended to damn with faint praise, because much of what is on offer is at the very least charming and sometimes considerably more.

For one thing, you get occasional suggestions from the operas, most obviously when a phrase from Trovatore’s “Tacea la notte” appears in In solitaria stanza, and there are suggestions of Desedmona in Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata with its despairing prayer to the Virgin. The disc ends with a strangely dark Ave Maria, and there are some lovely character portraits on the menu, such as the the Chimney-Sweep (Lo spazzacamino), the Gypsy (La zingara), and the Beggar (Il poveretto). The highlight is L’esule (The Exile), a self-contained scena that in its shape and scale (if not it’s instrumental sophistication) recalls Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock, and there is even a touch of humour in the folk song Stornello.

Each song very much has its own shape and colour so that listening to them in one sitting (just under an hour) remains a rich and satisfying experience. I can’t guarantee that this would be the case in the hands of every performer, but Price and Parsons are completely on board. The richness and sheer refulgence of that great voice is evident right from the very opening of this recital, burgeoning majestically into the climaxes of Il Tramonto (Sunset), elevating what is a rather slight, slow-moving romanza into something you’d pay to hear sung on the stage. Price has a lovely sense of the Verdian line, something that makes you sorry that more of her Verdi roles weren't captured on disc. The breath control is exemplary throughout, with a rich wisdom in when to push forwards and when to hold back. In this she is ably abetted by the pianistic poetry of Geoffrey Parsons, who plays each song as though it were Schubert. None of them gives him that much to do, and you imagine he could play the notes while half asleep, but he dignifies them by taking them very seriously and giving them their due as works of art with their own value.

This disc, one of the resurrected Presto Discs released by Presto Music, reproduces Deutsche Grammophon’s original booklet page for page. Importantly, this includes the full texts and translations. However, they’re in four languages (Italian, English, French and German) which makes the text tiny and, thus, quite difficult to read; or am I just getting older? That’s hardly Presto’s fault, though it’s a pity nonetheless, and you might find it easier to follow the words with the booklet in one hand and your magnifying glass in the other. Still, don’t let that put you off. This is a welcome insight into this repertoire, and I can’t imagine a finer pair of artists to guide us through it.

Simon Thompson

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