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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016

horizon. Such things can be gimmicky, but here DiDonato conveys the cold slap of reality: he’s not coming back – an effect underscored by reverberent recorded sound that conveys just how alone Ariadne is.

The harmonic extravagance of I canti della Sera, a song-cycle by Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971) that feels like theatrically astute Rachmaninov, shows how DiDonato and Pappano effectively cut away anything that’s interpretatively extraneous – in one of the few recordings anywhere of this once-acclaimed composer who fell into eclipse for his Fascist politics. The shamelessly lyrical Ernest de Curtis (1875-1937) could easily be cabaret music. But, as in the two Rossini trifles on the disc, the specificity of DiDonato’s conviction breaks through one’s preconceived notions about the respective genres.

Because these performances feel so right, the mis-steps in the second disc’s popular songs seem more obvious, suggesting that the diva is slumming it (even though she knows better). The first song group begins with a downright celestial version of Stephen Foster’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, arranged by David Krane with Impressionist chords suggesting Ives’s Central Park in the Dark. It’s also here that DiDonato’s voice has an expecially attractive plaintive quality, her small, quick vibrato recalling Frederica von Stade’s prime.

Elsewhere, in song choices that include rarities by Celine Dougherty and Heitor Villa-Lobos, DiDonato and Pappano are increasingly cavalier in ways that no doubt made the live event great fun but distract from the music’s content. DiDonato certainly has the voice to give ‘A Lazy Afternoon’ the understated eroticism of Kaye Ballard (in the original 1954 cast album of The Golden Apple on RCA Victor), but seems only able to pull back in time for her standard encore, ‘Over the Rainbow’, an irresistible talisman for this Kansas-born mezzo who, unlike her Wizard of Oz counterpart, will rule our Emerald Cities for years to come. David Patrick Stearns

‘Musica e Poesia’ Respighi Quattro rispetti toscani. Deità silvane Martucci Tre pezzi, Op 84 Ponchielli Sonetto di Dante, ‘Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare’ Pinsuti Sonetto di Dante, ‘Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare’ Liszt Tre sonetti di Petrarca Rosa Feola sop Iain Burnside pf Opus Arte Rosenblatt Recitals F OACD9039 (61’ • DDD • T/t)

In their search for the vocal stars of the future, Rosenblatt Recitals have enjoyed an impressive hit-rate. Now that the live recitals (originally at St John’s, Smith Square, more recently at Wigmore Hall) have started to spawn studio-made recordings, they are bringing their finds to a wider audience. Of these three latest discs, one is an absolute winner. The young Italian soprano Rosa Feola is everything that Rosenblatt Recitals hope to discover – a beautiful voice in its youthful prime, an artist on the threshold of an auspicious career.

Unlike Feola’s recital in the Rosenblatt series in 2014, this disc offers a programme solely of songs, all in Italian. The two groups by Respighi are typical of the minor treasures to be found among this neglected song composer’s legacy. His Quattro Rispetti toscani, sophisticated settings of four folk‑like poems, show off the light, bel canto beauty of Feola’s soprano (her Elvira in Welsh National Opera’s I puritani last year garnered special praise). The five Deità silvane (‘Woodland Deities’), set in an Arcadian landscape of rustling forests and abandoned classical gardens, open the door to a world half lit by French Impressionism. Iain Burnside ripples with cool precision through accompaniments that might have been drawn from Debussy’s Préludes and Feola matches him in the gentle, flickering lights in her voice.

A group of three late songs by Martucci offers a different take on how Italian composers were absorbing the latest musical innovations from France. Then a pair of settings of a Dante sonnet, one by Ponchielli, the other by Pinsuti, both said to be first recordings, leads neatly to Liszt’s exalted Tre Sonetti di Petrarca. Feola is not impassioned in these like Pavarotti or Carerras in their recordings, but her poise is impeccable. She takes some of the higher options for the voice, though not all. In one, at the close of ‘Pace non trovo’, she rises to an effortless D flat – a high point, in every sense, of singing that is graced everywhere with an elegant sweetness without ever feeling sentimental or saccharine. Richard Fairman

‘Néère’ Chausson Sept Mélodies, Op 2. La chanson bien douce. Le temps des lilas Duparc Chanson triste. Romance de Mignon. Phidylé. Au pays où se fait la guerre. L’invitation au voyage Hahn Le printemps. Trois jours de vendange. Quand je fus pris au pavillon. Le rossignol des lilas. A Chloris. Etudes Latines – Néère; Lydé; Tyndaris; Pholoé; Phyllis Véronique Gens sop Susan Manoff pf Alpha F ALPHA215 (66’ • DDD • T/t)

Véronique Gens’s new album is an important issue on several fronts. First and foremost,

it is arguably the most perfectly realised recital of French songs since Stéphane Degout’s very different ‘Mélodies’ (Naïve, 4/11). Second, it is quite remarkable and insightful in its programming. At its centre is Chausson’s Op 2 set, dating from 1881, much excerpted (‘Le colibri’ is very famous), but recorded here complete for the first time since Graham Johnson’s survey of the composer’s songs (Hyperion, 5/01). Around it are grouped works by Duparc and Hahn, the latter represented not only by such familiar items as ‘A Chloris’ but by songs from his Etudes Latines, a mixed solo-choral collection setting texts by Leconte de Lisle, published in 1900. They are quite wonderfully original – their sinewy melodies and pulsing accompaniments are closer in style to Satie’s Gnossiennes than anything else in Hahn’s output – and the disc as a whole makes a superb case for considering his songs, sometimes thought dilettantish, as being on a level with those of his elder contemporaries.

Gens, as one might expect, is exceptional in this repertoire. Most of the songs are about erotic anticipation and tristesse, and her dark, slightly smoky tone adds to the sensuality of it all. She sings as much off the text as the line, but nothing is nudged or forced in an overtly interventionist way. Neither she nor her pianist Susan Manoff seemingly believe that French song is necessarily about restraint and delicacy, and both are prepared to use bold colours and effects when the situation demands. ‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’ delivers near-Gothic frissons as a lurch of vocal anxiety and a piano shudder accompany the sound of strange footfalls on the tower stairs, and the arpeggios with which Manoff surrounds the image of the fields coloured ‘d’hyacinthe et d’or’ in ‘L’invitation au voyage’ glitter and sparkle like the contents of some sumptuous, decadent jewel box. Elsewhere, poise is all. Gens’s ‘A Chloris’ is one of the best there is, and Hahn’s ‘Néère’, which gives the disc its title, leaves you open-mouthed with its beauty. Tim Ashley gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 43

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