Wednesday 12 March 2014

Giuseppe Filianoti and Iain Burnside at Rosenblatt Recitals

Giuseppe Filianoti at the Wigmore Hall © Jonathan Rose
Giuseppe Filianoti
© Jonathan Rose
Cilea, Boito, Massenet, Tosti, Respighi: Giuseppe Filianoti & Iain Burnside: Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Music by Francesco Cilea takes centre stage at tenor Giuseppe Filianoti's first solo recital in London

Italian lyric tenor Giuseppe Filianoti made a welcome London appearance at the Wigmore Hall last night (11 March) accompanied by pianist Iain Burnside in programme of Italian songs and arias for Rosenblatt Recitals. Filianoti comes from Calabria and studied at the Conservatorio F. Cilea, so it was appropriate that the lions share of the first half of the concert lay with the composer Francesco Cilea, combining songs, piano pieces and arias from Cilea's opera L'Arlesiana. Also in the programme was songs and arias by Massenet, Boito, Tosti and Respighi.

Filianoti and Burnside started with a group of five songs by Francesco Cilea (1866 - 1950). The first three  were all early, dating from Cilea's student days, had rather serenade like characters; Serenata - Mormorante di tenere desio (Murmurs of sweet desire) which combined Burnside' characterful accompaniment with Filianoti's dark toned tenor, the melancholy Bionda larva (Blonde wisp) and the charming Serenata - L'aere imbruna (Dusk is falling) with its rather Spanish style accompaniment. The recital had clearly been planned with some care as all these opening songs sat quite low, with Filianoti displaying a finely rich lower register. He sang with a nicely open voice, producing an admirably smooth, full-toned line full of dark hued tone.

The next song was also from Cilea's student period, but Il mio canto (My song) was much more free arioso. It given an expressive performance by Filianoti though there were hints that his upper voice was taking time to reach its peak. So far, all the songs had been chamber pieces arie da camera, but Filianoti gave them all a very full-on performance, his style combining vivid drama with high-octane singing in a way more suitable for an operatic aria than a song. And sitting in the ninth row, it was also quite loud. But Filianoti is a very involving performer, his eyes and body working with his voice and in his own way he made the performances work.

This approach paid off in the next song, Cilea's Lontananza (Far away), dating from 1944 long after he had stopped composing opera. Here we had a dramatic arioso which was frankly rather thrilling. This continued with the final Cilea vocal number, the aria Una mattina m'apriron nella stanza (One morning I opened a window in my room) which Cilea deleted from act three of his opera L'Arlesiana. Cilea's writing in the arioso was very much freer than in the songs, and as it built to a climax Filianoti's tone opened up gloriously, but he also gave us a very real sense of finely sung, joined up phrases. Here, finally, was a good match between performance style and musical content.

Next came a pair of piano solos by Cilea. Serenata in E minor was a delightful transcription of the first song in the recital, with Burnside giving a lovely sense of a flexible melody combined with crisp rhythmic accompaniment. Romanza in A major felt like a transcription too, with a richly texture piano part and some lovely characterful playing from Burnside.

Giunto sul passo estremo (Having reached the last step) from the Epilogue to Mefistofile by Arrigo Boito (1842 - 1918), in which Faust (an old man again) rejects the devil and dies begging god for forgiveness. The aria is surprisingly simple, but made a strong effect in Filianoti's vividly committed performance with wonderfully well filled phrases.

La derniere letter de Werther a Charlotte (Werther's last letter to Charlotte) is a song by Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912) dating from 1912 some 20 years after the premiere of the opera Werther. Published in his collection Expressions lyriques - Melodies avec declamations rhythmee the piano part made reference to the opera, but the vocal material seemed entirely new. In fact, Massenet combined singing with melodrama in an entirely convincing and rather fascinating way. The result in Filianoti and Burnside hands made a highly dramatic and rather effective scena with the melodrama contributing strongly to the effect. Filianoti and Burnside concluded part one with Pourquoi me reveiller (Why do you awaken me), from act three of Massenet's opera Werther sung by Filianoti with firm tone, fluid line and admirable French.

During the interval there were two topics of conversation. One was Filianoti's highly patterned shirt and whether it and the highly patterned belt were a matching pair! The second was the perhaps more complex question of whether the wall lights at the Wigmore Hall are upside down; something for you to think about in those rare boring moments the next time you are at a concert there.

Part two of the concert started with a group of songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846 - 1916) written whilst he lived in England. Tosti was based in England from 1875 to 1913 and was naturalised a British citizen in 1906, being knighted two years later. The songs are all pleasantly melodic and full of charm, but also deceptively simple and with their long, even phrases, need a degree of skill and technique to bring; something which Filianoti showed to perfection. He was clearly more relaxed, but I am afraid that I still found his performance a little over demonstrative and too loud, I wanted the songs to be more chamber pieces and less aria like. Seconda mattinata (Second morning) was pleasantly melodic song, whilst Tristezza (Sadness) had a rich vein of melancholy. Non t'amo piu (I don't love you anymore) is quite a subtle piece, which Filianoti performed in a strikingly vivid way. L'alba separa dall luce l'ombra (The dawn divides the darkness from the light) sets a text by the great Italian poet and patriot Gabriele d'Annunzio (1863 - 1938) and was wonderfully ardent (dare I say almost too much so).

Sopra un'aria antica (On an ancient air) by Ottorino Respighi (1879 - 1936) also sets a text by d'Annunzio. This song though had a far more subtle accompaniment with great harmonic interest, and a rather conversational vocal line. The song felt far more daring than the ones we had heard earlier and in Filianoti and Burnside performance was rather intense. Nebbie (Mists) is one of Respighi's best known songs, here receiving a highly dramatic performance.

Filianoti and Burnside finished with a second aria from Cilea's L'Arlesiania the well known LE la solita storia del pastore (Its the shepherd's usual story), which they performed with the preceding recitative like introduction. The aria is very conversational, with the introduction making a highly dramatic effect and Filianoti gave it a very full, dramatic performance but, unlike some of the smaller scale songs, this was music designed for this type of performance; full toned, finely phrased and ultimately rather thrilling.

We were treated to a single encore, Ernesto de Curtis's (1875 - 1937) Non ti scordar di me, a delightful waltz which sent us home humming.

This was Giuseppe Filianoti's first recital in London. He had assembled a fascinating and well thought-out programme which was delivered with a fine technique and some thrillingly powerful singing. It was a mistake, I think, to give the arie da camera such an operatic treatment. During the evening Filianoti showed us singing with great subtlety and style, just not quite as much as I would have liked. He was admirably partnered by Iain Burnside whose vivid accompaniment brought character to all of the music. It was nice to see him getting a solo spot of his own for once.

The Rosenblatt Recitals series continues at the Wigmore Hall on 2 April 2014, with another Italian tenor Antonio Poli accompanied by Jan Philip Schulze.


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