Britten: Michelangelo Sonnets; Liszt: Petrarch Sonnets / Francesco Meli

Release Date: 11/19/2013
Label: Opus Arte
Catalog Number: OA CD9019D
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRITTEN MICHAELANGELO SONNETS, LISZT PETRARCH SONNETS Francesco Meli (t); Matteo Pais (pn) OPUS ARTE 9019 (72:15 Text and Translation) Live: London 6/6/2007 1 & 3/11/2009 2

BRITTEN 7 Sonnets of Michaelangelo. MASSENET 1 Manon: En fermant les yeux. GOUNOD 1 Roméo et Juliette: Ah, lève-toi, soleil! TOSTI L’Ultima canzone. Tristezza. L’Ultimo bacio. ROSSINI La danza. Le sylvain. VERDI 2 I Lombardi: La mia letizia infondere. DONIZETTI-SALVI 2 Le Duc d’Alba: Angelo casto e bel. LISZT 3 sonetti del Petrarca

What a strange conglomeration of a disc this is, starting and finishing with very “serious” song cycles by Britten and Liszt, in between turning into an operatic and Italian song recital. Of course, since Meli is an Italian tenor, much of this repertoire certainly makes sense, but I still find the juxtaposition rather weird. As I mentioned in my review of his performance of the Verdi Requiem under Temirkanov ( Fanfare 37:4), he strikes me as the rarest kind of Italian tenor, a true artist and not just a belter, therefore the Britten and Liszt came as less of a surprise to me as they might to some readers.

As it turns out, Meli’s voice is absolutely perfect for the Britten cycle, which I always felt was suited to exactly this kind of vocal timbre. Anyone who has heard Peter Pears’s original HMV recordings of these pieces, from 1940, will note the strong resemblance of his voice at that particular time to Tito Schipa (another tenor who really should have sung them, but didn’t). Meli, being a legitimate Italian tenor, has more ring and ping in the high range than Pears (or Schipa) had, but his phrasing is magical and his interpretation very close to the way Pears did it in 1940. I was also delighted to hear the high quality of Pais’s piano accompaniment, almost a requisite in any vocal music of Britten, since the composer was himself such an outstanding pianist. I was absolutely enraptured by this performance from start to finish.

Meli’s French is not entirely idiomatic-sounding, but his elegant phrasing for the “dream” from Manon will melt many a heart, particularly since it is one of the very few I’ve heard that is sung in score-perfect fashion. Even better is his performance of the deceptively difficult “Ah, lêve-toi, soleil!” from Roméo et Juliette. Meli also sings it correctly here, and with greater feeling than I can recall hearing from any modern tenor. The Tosti songs are nicely sung, with real feeling and very little over-exaggeration as I would have expected from this excellent singer, but alas, they’re still just Tosti songs. (I’ve run across one commentator who stated that, in his view, Tosti was a greater songwriter than Schubert. Chacun à son goût .) Rossini’s showpiece La danza has plenty of verve and excellent technical facility, although the much finer and subtler song Le sylvain entices an equally subtle, artistic reading from the tenor. I was a bit surprised to see “La mia letizia” from I Lombardi here, if only because Meli really isn’t a tenor with real vocal “heft” (like Caruso, or young José Carreras), yet he dispatches it with aplomb, the final high B? ringing out easily. On the other hand, the final high B? of “Angelo casto e bel” has too much strain, though it, too, is phrased well.

A friend of mine opined that Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets are dull music. Listening to this performance, however, all I could ask myself was: Is he kidding me? The way Meli sings them, at least, there is nothing at all dull about them. The words are passionately interpreted, almost as if these were operatic arias of great feeling. Well, perhaps Meli just sings them better than others do. I, for one, found them very good and interesting music, again well performed by both tenor and pianist.

Meli does not have a perfect technique. As I mentioned, a couple of high notes go awry, at least in the live material (though in the studio recording of the Liszt, he nails a high D?), and his attempt at a trill in Le sylvain is just a flutter, but I definitely give this man an A for artistic effort. He knows what he is about, he knows his music, and he tries his best to wed good vocalism with good interpretation. Four stars.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
1. Sonnets (7) of Michelangelo, Op. 22 by Benjamin Britten
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1940 ; England
2. Manon: En fermant les yeux "Dream of des Grieux" by Jules Massenet
Period: Romantic
Written: 1883-1884 ; France
3. Faust: Ah, lève-toi, soleil by Charles Gounod
Period: Romantic
Written: 1856-1859 ; France
4. Canzoni-stornelli (3): no 2, L'ultima canzone by Francesco Paolo Tosti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1905 ; Italy
5. Tristezza by Francesco Paolo Tosti
Period: Romantic
Written: 1908 ; London, England
6. L'ultimo bacio by Francesco Paolo Tosti
Period: Romantic
7. Les soirées musicales: no 8, La danza by Gioachino Rossini
Period: Romantic
Written: circa 1830-1835 ; Italy
8. Péchés de vieillesse, Volume 3 "Morceaux réservés": no 9, Le Sylvain by Gioachino Rossini
Period: Romantic
Written: 1857-1868 ; Italy
9. I lombardi: La mia letizia infondere by Giuseppe Verdi
Period: Romantic
Written: 1843 ; Italy
10. Angelo casto e bel (in Donizetti's "Le duc d'Albe") by Matteo Salvi
11. Petrarch Sonnets (3), S 270 by Franz Liszt
Period: Romantic
Written: 1839/1861 ; Switzerland
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