LABELS: Koch Universal
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Malinconia D’amore
WORKS: Songs by Massenet, Denza, Albéniz, Tchaikovsky, Toselli, Vives,
PERFORMER: José Carreras (tenor), Lorenzo Bavaj (piano); Ensemble Wien
CATALOGUE NO: 474 591-2
Intended to evoke ‘melancholy, existential grief and unrequited love’, these late 19th- and early 20th-century songs form a gloriously emotional recital, with Carreras at his most heartfelt, generous and impassioned. His voice may be darker and earthier than it was, but it is no less burnished or expressive. Beginning with Massenet’s anguished ‘Élégie’ (familiar to ballet-goers as the main theme in Manon), the programme emphasises Catalan and Italian composers, together with a handful of French settings by Tchaikovsky and Denza. Oddly, however, given the sombre mood, they are accompanied by salon-style arrangements for piano, violins, viola and double bass. There’s no faulting the playing of Ensemble Wien, a quartet drawn from the Vienna Philharmonic, whose virtuosity is showcased in the final number, the exhilaratingly percussive ‘Leyenda’ from the ‘Asturias’ section of Albéniz’s Suite española. And in the seductively lilting figures of Costa’s ‘Era de maggio’; the tango-inflected setting of Acampora’s ‘Vierno’; or Vives’s tragic hymn to Catalonia, ‘L’emigrant’, these unashamedly emotive arrangements are effective. But in other cases – the saccharine introduction to Albéniz’s ‘Barcarola’, or Toselli’s schmaltzy ‘Serenata’, with its falsetto vocal line – the syrupy strings, with their overblown vibrato, can seem just a little too Palm Court. Which may explain why the balance puts the voice so far forward of the instruments.