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ITALIAN LOVE SONGS
Anna Leese & Stephen de Pledge

 

 

 
1. Bellini, Vincenzo [02:09]
Tre ariette - i - Il fervido

2. Bellini, Vincenzo [02:59]
Tre ariette - ii - Dolente immagine

3. Bellini, Vincenzo [03:18]
Tre ariette - iii - Vaga luna

4. Bellini, Vincenzo [02:12]
La Farfaletta

5. Bellini, Vincenzo [02:24]
Ma rendi

6. Puccini, Giacomo [02:36]
Terra e mare

7. Puccini, Giacomo [01:33]
E l'uccellino

8. Puccini, Giacomo [06:37]
Storiella d'amore

9. Puccini, Giacomo [01:59]
Sole e amore

10. Tosti, Sir Francesco Paolo [03:12]
Sogno

11. Tosti, Sir Francesco Paolo [05:05]
Non t'amo piu

12. Tosti, Sir Francesco Paolo [03:04]
Ideale

13. Tosti, Sir Francesco Paolo [02:35]
Luna d'estate

14. Donizetti, Gaetano [01:28]
Sull'onda cheta e bruna

15. Donizetti, Gaetano [03:37]
Amiamo

16. Savioni, Mario [03:10]
Fugga fugg'amor

Artist(s):
Anna Leese, Soprano
Stephen de Pledge, Pianist


Anna Leese and Stephen de Pledge perform Italian Love Songs by Bellini, Puccini, Donizetti and Tosti. These elegant pieces for solo voice, some well known, others less so, connect directly with a rich and substantial body of Italian art songs, romanze and liriche da camera, composed over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bellini’s demanding and virtuosic operatic writing is familiar, but his songs test the fundamental precepts of bel canto technique (unbroken legato singing, subtle dynamic shading and the singer’s ability to articulate words with crystal clarity) and the haunting beauty of his Tre ariette arises from blending this with folk-song elements, gleaned from his life in Catania on Sicily’s east coast.

Puccini created songs at various points in his life, from his youth in Lucca and student years in Milan to occasional pieces conceived long after his operas had achieved global fame. Many of his romanze and liriche da camera first appeared in print in magazines devoted to the cultivation of the arts or designed to serve the buoyant market for domestic music- making.

In a similar vein, Donizetti’s prolific output of songs with piano accompaniment includes many works evocative of the effortless style of Italian folk music and canzoni popolari.

Tosti, born in Ortona where he received most of his music education, struggled to make a living as a composer in his early years. Feted in London when he arrived there in 1875, he became a huge success and his great catalogue of expressive songs, characterized by melody, remain popular and have been recorded by the world’s greatest singers.

New Zealand Soprano Anna Leese is a graduate of the University of Otago, the Royal College of Music and the Benjamin Britten International Opera School. Her many awards include the 2005 Richard Tauber Prize and she was recently named as an Arts Foundation New Generation Artist in New Zealand. Her roles for 2012/13 include Leila in Pearlfishers for Opera Holland Park (June), Majenka (The Bartered Bride) and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) (August) for the New Zealand Opera, and concerts with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. As part of the acclaimed Prince Consort she will perform at Wigmore Hall in three concerts during 2013 (February, April, July), as part of their American Song Series.

New Zealand pianist Stephen De Pledge maintains a diverse and wide-ranging performing schedule, as soloist, chamber musician and song accompanist. He has already recorded a solo recital disc for Champs Hill Records.

The bonus track on the album is by Savioni, who lived 1608-1685, and is recorded with tenor Thorsten Büttner.


 

 


In the early months of 1868, Emilio Broglio, Italy’s Minister of Public Education, announced that the nation’s network of music conservatories should be reformed. The politician, who confessed that he knew nothing about music, wrote to Rossini to enlist the elderly composer’s support for his plan, belittling the status of Italian musicians at home and overseas with ill-informed rhetoric. ‘We are reduced to music that you cannot listen to, because there is no one left who knows how to sing,’ he observed. ‘Since Rossini, that is, for the last forty years, what have we had? Four operas by Meyerbeer and [nothing else]. How can we cure such sterility?’ Broglio’s broadside misfired. Giuseppe Verdi, whose operas were feted worldwide, was outraged when he saw a copy of the letter. He made his displeasure known by refusing to accept his appointment by the government as Commander of the Order of the Italian Cross, instructing an intermediary to relay his views to the press. ‘As for [Broglio’s] … project for the rehabilitation of music … I have nothing to say, and probably never will have,’ the composer noted. ‘I do, however, find it fine and instructive that an Italian minister should hurl anathema at an art that honours the name of Italy all over the world.’

 

Verdi reported to friends that he had rejected the honour not for reasons of personal pride but in tribute to Bellini and Donizetti, ‘who filled the world with their melodies’ and ‘were no longer able to defend themselves’. Italy’s musical reputation rested on the global reach of operas by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi himself. The popular success of their finest stage works effectively defined Italian music as synonymous with opera, neatly overlooking the historical importance of song to the development of operatic composition and the love of native audiences for elegantly crafted melodies. The contents of this album connect directly with a rich and substantial body of Italian art songs, romanze and liriche da camera, elegant pieces crafted for solo voice and piano over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

The melodic accomplishments of Bellini and Donizetti are clearly present in their romanze da camera. Music was at the heart of daily life for the young Bellini. His home town of Catania, on Sicily’s east coast, was alive to the vivid sounds and improvised elaborations of local peasant music, military bands, barrel organs, sacred compositions (both ancient and modern), and a wealth of music for theatre and popular entertainments. The haunting beauty of his Tre ariette, published posthumously by the firm of Ricordi in 1838, arises from their particular blend of the spirit of folksong and the art of bel canto. It appears likely that Bellini composed these and other chamber songs in the 1820s, perhaps during his time as a student at the Royal Conservatory in Naples, or in Milan towards the decade’s end. ‘Vaga luna, che inargenti’, the best known of the set, makes a cardinal virtue of simplicity, setting each strophe of the song’s anonymous text to the same music, attaching almost every syllable to a single note and supporting the voice with the easiest of piano accompaniments.

 

While Bellini’s operatic writing often demands extraordinary feats of vocal virtuosity, his songs test the fundamental precepts of bel canto technique: unbroken legato singing, subtle dynamic shading and the singer’s ability to articulate words with crystal clarity. His three ariettas were republished as part of an anthology issued to mark the centenary of the composer’s death in 1935. The collection, packaged by Ricordi under the catch-all title Composizioni da Camera, proved enormously successful, thanks in no small part to the popularity achieved by La farfalletta. This jaunty canzoncina employs two melodic ideas to carry the tale of a young lover’s self-interested pursuit of a ‘little butterfly, with each verse separated by an abbreviated version of the second tune for solo piano. Ma rendi pur contento, which was chosen to close the Composizioni da Camera book, is a tender setting of words by the eighteenth-century poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio.

 

Donizetti’s prolific output of songs with piano accompaniment includes many works evocative of the effortless style of Italian folk music and canzoni popolari. His setting of the charming anonymous poem Amiamo deftly combines elements of popular song and operatic aria. The prevailing light-hearted mood of the composer’s melodic writing is briefly subverted by an unexpected modulation at the words ‘Altra beltà non è che un suo tributo’, a neat trick of Donizetti’s trade. Sull'onda cheta e bruna, a delightful barcarolle published in Milan in 1838, conjures up fleeting images of the anxious lover Leonora and her gondolier as they navigate the canals of Venice by moonlight.

 

‘I have never written a Lied or a romanza,’ recalled Puccini in a letter written in 1920. While the composer’s statement was not strictly accurate, he went on to explain that he needed ‘the great window of the stage – there I am at ease…. When travelling I cannot see a landscape or hear a word without thinking of a possible dramatic situation.’ In fact, Puccini created songs at various points in his life, from his youth in Lucca and student years in Milan to occasional pieces conceived long after his operas had achieved global fame. Many of his romanze and liriche da camera first appeared in print in magazines devoted to the cultivation of the arts or designed to serve the buoyant market for domestic music-making.

 

Terra e Mare, a sublime setting of words by the art historian and philosopher Enrico Panzacchi, was completed at Puccini’s villa in Torre del Lago in October 1902. It appeared in the second edition of Novissima, Edoardo de Fonseca’s acclaimed annual ‘album of arts and letters’. E l’ucellino was written in 1899 as a lullaby for the son of one of Puccini’s closest friends, Guglielmo Lippi, who had died almost two years earlier. The composer asked Giovanni Pascoli ‘to express in few words the sentiment of all of us toward the unfortunate young man’. In response, the poet delivered a cradle-song that inspired Puccini to write a remarkable melody, both intimate in nature and operatic in its intensity. Although E l’ucellino was conceived as a private tribute, dedicated ‘Al bimbino Memmo Lippi’, the song swiftly secured a place in the concert repertoire following its publication by Ricordi in 1900.

 

Puccini’s Storiella d’amore, his first published composition, appeared in print in October 1883 in Edoardo Sonzogno’s weekly journal, La Musica Popolare, where it was billed as the work of ‘one of the most distinguished students to graduate this year from the Milan Conservatory’. Puccini scholars have traced the ancestry of melodies in the composer’s early opera Edgar and in Mimì’s Act I aria, ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’, from La Bohème to Storiella d’amore. The piece bears witness to the young Puccini’s feeling for melodic expression and ability to fashion strong emotional contrasts within the space of a few bars. Sole e amore, published in 1888 in the magazine Paganini, also surfaced in La Bohème, where its melodic material informs the quartet at the close of the opera’s third act. In 1906 Puccini sent an autograph manuscript of his song to Francesco Paolo Tosti, complete with the inscription, ‘To my dearest friend F.P. Tosti this first embryo of Bohème.

 

Born in Ortona sur Mare in 1846, Tosti grew up during the turbulent years of the Risorgimento, the great campaign to create a united Italy and liberate the peninsula from foreign domination and the temporal powers of the Vatican. Young Paolo enrolled as a pupil at the Naples Conservatory soon after his twelfth birthday, where he studied violin and composition. Ill health forced Tosti to return to his home town for a period of rest and recovery in 1869. It was here that he first successfully turned his hand to song-writing, launching a career that reached its apogee after Tosti moved to London in 1880. The handsomely bewhiskered musician became singing teacher to the royal family, was appointed professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music in 1894 and took British citizenship eight years later. His many achievements were recognised in 1908 when he received a knighthood for services to music.

 

Tosti’s long association with the poet Olindo Guerrini (widely known under the pseudonym Lorenzo Stecchetti) delivered many outstanding songs to the private salons and recital rooms of Victorian and Edwardian England and beyond. Sogno is a masterpiece of lyrical invention, economic its melodic material yet deeply affecting in mood. The composer’s use of rocking 6/8 accompaniment figures and consonant exchanges between voice and piano fuels its yearning intensity. The work dates from 1886 and has been a staple of the song recital repertoire ever since. Tosti’s romanza Ideale was first published in 1882. Its melody, described by one contemporary Italian critic as a ‘nice little tune’, secured its creator’s pre-eminence as London’s leading salon composer. The song’s musical quality and the enduring appeal of Carmelo Errico’s love lyrics ensured its survival long after the demise of salon society.

 

Errico also supplied the verse for Non t’amo più! An early reviewer paid tribute to the ‘surge of uncontrollable passion’ unleashed by Tosti in the ‘characteristic octaves’ etched into his romanza’s voice and piano parts. Above all, however, it is the delicate beauty of the melodic writing that touches and moves the listener’s affections. During the final years of his life, Tosti turned frequently and fruitfully to the poetry of Riccardo Mazzola. Luna d'estate!, completed in Francavilla al Mare in September 1911, is an outstanding example of the composer’s sensitive treatment of Mazzola’s verse, as fresh and elegant as any of his finest romanze.

 

Composers of Puccini’s generation were able to consult Alessandro Parisotti’s famous three-volume anthology of Arie antiche as it appeared in the 1880s. The collection, noted its editor, contained ‘the most fitting resources for the purification of taste … gleaned from old manuscripts and ancient editions, where they lay in unmerited oblivion’. Mario Savioni’s duet Fugga, fugg’ Amor had to wait until more recent times to be rescued from the library shelf. Savioni cut his musical teeth as a boy soprano in Rome, rose to become an alto in the choir of the Cappella Sistina and achieved success as a composer. His chamber cantatas contain much of his finest music, the best of which was disseminated in manuscript anthologies. Fugga, fugg’ Amor survives in a collection of cantatas, duets and a trio housed in the Vatican Library and a source clearly attributed to Savioni in Bologna. The work offers a closely argued musical dialogue on the pros and cons of love.      

                                                                                                                                                                                    Andrew Stewart


 “This is a delightful recital, made special by the fine, vibrant quality of Leese's voice, her strong technique and the intelligent qualities she and De Pledge bring to the performances.”

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill

 "... it's the most gorgeous voice... creamy, beautiful soprano..."

BBC Radio 3, CD Review

 "...very pretty singing by a young New Zealand soprano named Anna Leese. The voice is a full lyric with a built-in sensuality, absolutely even throughout its range and solidly produced..."

Robert Levine, Classics Today

"Leese’s voice is so effortless, such a sheer pleasure."

Mary Kunz Goldman, The Buffalo News

"A highly enjoyable recording" *****

Alexander Bryce

"[Anna Leese] possess impeccable intonation and her pure, true soprano moves around the notes with skill and style."

George Hall, BBC Music Magazine

   
   

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