Notes and Editorial Reviews
Il tramonto. La seduzione. Ad una stella. Lo spazzacamino. Perduta ho la pace. Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata. Chi i bei
m’adduce ancora. La zingara. L’esule. Non t’accostare all’urna. In solitaria stanza. Nell’orror di notte oscura. Il poveretto; Stornello. Otello:
Margaret Price (sop); Geoffrey Parsons (pn)
DG ELOQUENCE 4805368 (57: 24)
The late, lamented Margaret Price (1941-2011), though
famous for her Verdi and Mozart roles (she had a lyric instrument big enough for Elisabetta, Amelia, Desdemona, and Leonora, but not big enough for Abigaille or Odabella), told Edward Seckerson in an interview shortly before her death that despite her great success in opera her first and last love was the song repertoire. These recordings, originally made at the famous Konzerthaus at the Mozartsaal in Vienna in April 1986, are ample proof of that love.
Price’s voice was one of the great glories of our modern era. She was a soprano who was generally more musical in her phrasing than Caballé (her mid-range timbre sometimes resembled the Spanish soprano’s), more dependable in her high range than Tebaldi, and more secure in her trills and fiorature than any number of pre-Renée Fleming or Angela Gheorghiu sopranos. I was always sorry never to have heard her in person, but she didn’t debut at the Metropolitan until 1985, seven years after I left the East Coast, and her Met career wasn’t very long or prosperous. In this recital, as was usual with Price, she sang with tremendous energy, filling each phrase with a great tone and superb coloration. Also as usual, her technique is solid and always there when she needs it, but never used for “flash.” Price simply had too much good taste to be ostentatious.
I was familiar with some of these songs, particularly the famous “Stornello,” “Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata”—with its downward-chromatic scale prescient of Saint-Saëns’s “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix”—and “La zingara,” written in 1845 and remarkably similar to the music Verdi was then writing for
. But what struck me through so many of the early ones (all but the last two songs date from Verdi’s “galley years,” 1838-1845) was their resemblance in construction, not only to his own arias, but also to the music of Mozart. One almost never thinks of Verdi as being Mozartian (that adjective is almost always reserved for Mendelssohn), but I heard it quite a bit in the first part of this recital. Even when you reach a song like “L’esule,” based on a text by one of Verdi’s favorite librettists, Temistocle Solera, it’s obvious that the Verdi of 1839 was working out a development of the recitative-aria-cabaletta style of his predecessors, trying to integrate the three sections rather than having them sound like disparate elements, and this, too, harks back to the Mozart of
La clemenza di Tito
when he, too, was working out such a style. “Non t’accostare all’urna” is also an experimental song, with the moods of the protagonist changing quickly and mercurially, going back and forth from an agitated state to lyric reverie.
One comes to take Geoffrey Parsons a little for granted because he’s always so good and so consistent an accompanist. This is unfair, but what on earth could I say about the man who has become the latter-day Gerald Moore? Perhaps just this: most people don’t know that he got his start as an accompanist in 1951 when he toured Australia with the great bass-baritone Peter Dawson.
I think the only noted musician who didn’t like Margaret Price was Georg Solti. After hearing her sing Cherubino at Covent Garden in 1962, he said that he never wanted to work with her again because her singing was “charmless,” and even had it written into her contract that she would never sing leading roles at the house. (I wonder how he handled it when he conducted Price, Pavarotti, and Bruson in his excellent 1985 recording of
Un ballo in maschera?
) I find nothing charmless about Price’s singing; on the contrary, it is full of personality, but the overriding quality one hears in this voice is a luscious warmth that almost envelops you like two loving arms. This is a disc for the ages. I doubt that we shall ever again hear these songs delivered with so much care or love.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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