Wednesday 11 February 2015

Saimir Pirgu at Rosenblatt Recitals - charm and lyric drama

Simon Lepper and Saimir Pirgu at the Wigmore Hall - picture credit Jonathan Rose
Simon Lepper and Saimir Pirgu at the Wigmore Hall
picture credit Jonathan Rose
Bononcini, Gluck, Scarlatti, Mozart, Verdi, Gounod, Disdari, Cilea; Saimir Pirgu, Alda Disdari, Simon Lepper; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 10 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Lyrical drama from Albanian tenor in operatic arias from 18th and 19th centuries

Last night's Rosenblatt Recital (10/2/2015) at the Wigmore Hall showcased the Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu accompanied by pianist Simon Lepper. Pirgu has been singing Alfredo (in La Traviata) at Covent Garden and will be the Shepherd in Szymanowski's King Roger there in May. For his return to Rosenblatt Recitals, Pirgu's programme combined operatic arias with 18th arias and music from his homeland. He started with a group of arias by Bononcini, Gluck and Scarlatti and then sang a group of arias from Mozart operas, La clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni and Idomeneo. For the second half we had arias from Verdi's Rigoletto and Macbeth, Gounod's Romeo et Juliette and Cilea's L'Arlesiana plus a song by the Albanian composer Limoz Disdari and another Albanian song. A surprise was the participation of violinist Alda Disdari (daughter of the composer) who played in her father's song and also gave us a movement from a Beethoven violin sonata.

There was something rather reassuringly old-fashioned in feel about Pirgu's recital. I can remember attending recitals at Covent Garden on Sunday evenings in the 1980's and Monserrat Caballe would always begin her recitals with a group of arie antiche, sung beautifully but certainly not in any sense a period style. This was how Pirgu approached his group of arias by Bononcini, Gluck and Scarlatti. Per la gloria d'arodrarvi comes from Griselda by Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747) based on the story of patient Griselda from Bocaccio's Decamaron. The opera was premiered at the King's Theatre in London in 1722. Pirgu's performance combined a nice feel for the ornamental vocal line, with a rather traditional style so that he mixed a lovely mezza-voce with some very powerful climaxes.

Saimir Pirgu and Simon Lepper in rehearsal at the Wigmore Hall - photo Jonathan Rose
Saimir Pirgu and Simon Lepper in rehearsal at the Wigmore Hall
photo Jonathan Rose
O del mio docle ardo from Paride ed Elena by Christoph Willibald  Gluck (1714-1787) was sung by the Paris (Paride), a role sung by a mezzo-soprano. Pirgu had a nice sense of line and floated much of the aria beautifully but again felt the need to include big vocal climaxes which seemed anachronistic. He has a surprisingly strong, dark voice with lots of interesting rich undertones, but with a nice lyrical facility. Though clearly he loved showing off the full force of his open Italianate voice, he was very capable of some beautiful hushed singing too. Though, overall, it was quite a loud evening, we has some quietly lovely moments along the way too.  Pirgu sang the entire programme from memory and showed himself relax and communicative on the platform (particularly in the second half), with a charming stage presence.

Gia il sole dal Gange comes from L'honesta negli amori by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725). This was a perkier, runny piece with lots of passagework which Pirgu handled very fluently. With Del piu sublime soglio from La Clemenza di Tito by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) we moved into more familiar territory. Here Pirgu sang with a nice sense of style and a lovely sheen to the voice. Il mio tesoro from Don Giovanni showed that Pirgu's voice is quite a big instrument,  and here he combined it with a lovely sense of line and fluent passagework. This was the most confidently stylish of his arias so far.

Alda Disdari and Saimir Pirgu at the Wigmore Hall - picture credit Jonathan Rose
Alda Disdari and Saimir Pirgu at the Wigmore Hall
picture credit Jonathan Rose
There followed an addition to the programme as violinist Alda Disdari, accompanied by Simon Lepper, played the slow movement from Beethoven's Spring Sonata (Disdari is playing all of Beethoven's sonatas for piano and violin at St John's Waterloo in November). She played with a fine-grained singing line and a great sense of calm, combining rich tone quality with delicacy of touch.

The first half finished with Fuor del mar from Mozart's Idomeneo, which Pirgu sang with firm heroic tone and a flexible vocal line which integrated the elaborate ornamental passages into the expressive line. In the confines of the Wigmore Hall, Idomeneo's virtuoso heroics came over quite loudly at times, but in the context of this aria reticence is hardly a virtue.

The second half of the programme opened with a pair of arias by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) and from the opened notes of Questa o quella, the Duke's opening aria from Act One of Rigoletto, Pirgu seemed more relaxed both vocally and dramatically. He sang with full throated Italianate tones and gave the aria just the right amount of confident swagger. Ah, la paterna mano, Macduff's Act Four aria from Macbeth was far sombre, with a beautiful send of line and shape, in long well supported lines.

Romeo's aria Ah! leve-toi soleil from Act Two of Romeo et Juliette by Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893) was sung in confident French. Pirgu went off stage for the long instrumental prelude, giving dramatic impetus to the performance by making his entry when the voice comes in. He sang with a near ideal combination of heroic and lyric tones, combining some strongly dramatic moments with some flexible, floated lines.

The Albanian composer Limoz Disdari (born 1942) has written music for quite a number of Albanian films. His song Fjalet e Qiritit  (The words of the candle) sets words by the Albanian poet and writer Naim Frasheri (1846 - 1900), widely regarded as the National Poet of Albania. The song has a substantial violin obliggato, played by Alda Disdari, and both violin and voice had long rather lyrical lines. The result was, in fact, rather French sounding and attractively romantic. Pirgu followed this with another Albanian song, this one also setting a text by Frasheri, Rjjedh ne kenge e ligjerime (In song and speech) which was far more essentially patriotic.

Finally, Pirgu returned to Italy for E la solita storia del pastore from L'Arlesiana by Francesco Cilea (1866 - 1950, which was sung with a big, bold yet flexible sound, fluid yet positively throbbing with passion. The audience was rightly enthusiastic and we were treated to two encores, the second being Pourquoi me reveiller from Massenet's Werther.

Saimir opens in Kasper Holten's production of Szymanowski's King Roger, with Mariusz Kwiecen in the title role, at Covent Garden on 1 May 2015.
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