TOSTI Malia. ’A vucchella. L’ultima canzone. Aprile. Non t’amo più. Luna d’estate. La serenata. Ideale. Marchiare. Sogno. L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra. Partie c’est mourir. MASCAGNI Serenata: Come col capo sotto l’alta bianca. DONAUDY O del mio amato ben • Stefano Secco (tn); David Abramovitz (pn) • NAXOS 8572471 (47:47)
Return with us nowRead more to those glorious days of yesteryear, when Italian tenors (especially but not exclusively) regaled their concert audiences not with Respighi, Berio, or whatever Italian composer du jour was in vogue that season, but with the well-loved and time-tested songs of Francesco Paolo Tosti, Queen Victoria’s favorite song composer and a man whom at least one Internet blogger has claimed was a greater song composer than Schubert. (Don’t look at me.) Greater than Schubert he may not have been, but there is no question that Tosti, with his superb if more limited melodic gift, captured to a high degree the poetic inflections of the lyrics he set, which makes it more the pity that Naxos has once again thrown the texts online where the home listener cannot access them while listening (unless you are one of those nuts who has the Internet up while you listen to CDs … I certainly don’t).
Fortunately, Stefano Secco has a nice tenor voice, light in weight with a bright timbre, good breath support, open high notes, and a good sense of style. Yes, I miss the more honeyed tone that Caruso and di Stefano brought to some of these songs, but you can’t have everything. He’s particularly good in one of my absolute favorite Tosti songs,’A vucchella, which requires the utmost in legato and voice control. There’s a slight touch of Pavarotti in his tone—not a bad thing. Fans of the Caruso and Björling versions may miss the midrange power they produced in L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra, but Secco has his own way with the song and, within the limits he sets for himself, it works.
Some listeners, used to the orchestral accompaniments that Caruso, Gigli, and di Stefano received in these songs, may be disappointed by a piano-only accompaniment. I am not. David Abramovitz is not severely challenged in these readings—indeed, the simplicity of the piano accompaniment is one major difference between Tosti and Schubert—but he certainly plays well so far as it goes. Collectors of historical recordings, of course, have multiple versions of most of these pieces, but it’s a pleasure to have the very best of Tosti, along with two choice samples of Mascagni and Donaudy, in one album. Just one caveat: How can you do an album of Tosti and leave his biggest hit song, Addio, off? That song was so incredibly popular, even among nonclassical listeners, that around 1918 the famous comedian Bert Williams wrote his own sequel: I Wonder Where Tosti Went When He Said Goodbye?
If you aren’t prejudiced against “the Italian Reynaldo Hahn,” whose songs languished in obscurity for decades before their more recent revival by Susan Graham, you’ll find yourself enjoying the Mediterranean flavor and accent of Tosti’s music, especially in these beautifully and sensitively sung interpretations.