COMPOSERS: Bellini,Donizetti & Rossini
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: An Italian Songbook
WORKS: Songs by Bellini, Donizetti & Rossini
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano)James Levine (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 455 513-2
Only a curmudgeon could fail to delight in this recital of little-known songs by Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. Bartoli is rarely less than outstanding on disc, but even by her own superior standards this is a performance of exceptional, irrepressible charm. It goes without saying that she is vastly accomplished technically; what sets her apart is her expressiveness and the warmth, joy and laughter in that burnished voice.
Listeners expecting quasi-operatic showpieces might be disappointed, for though there’s some fiery coloratura and the odd breathtaking run, the prevailing mood is lower-key and smaller-scale, with songs that represent a continuation of the style established with Arie Antiche. Some are traditional, some use dance rhythms (Neapolitan tarantellas, an aragonese, a bolero), others are settings of pastoral poems or have classical themes. In many ways these are the songs that Schubert, Schumann and Wolf looked to for inspiration for their Italienische Lieder, and suggest Italy made a more substantial contribution to the tradition of 19th-century art song than is generally acknowledged.
James Levine may be better known as a conductor, but he is also an accompanist of the first order. The piano parts here are every bit as exacting as the vocal lines, and his performance is superbly judged. Claire Wrathall