Monday 15 February 2016

Musica e poesia - Rosa Feola & Iain Burnside

Musica e Poesia Respighi, Martucci, Ponchielli Pinsuti, Liszt; Rosa Feola, Iain Burnside; Opus Arte
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 11 2016
Star rating: 3.5

19th and 20th century Italian composers exploring settings of Italian texts

Italian soprano Rosa Feola (seen recently as Elvira in Welsh National Opera's production of Bellini's I Puritani, see my review) and pianist Iain Burnside have released a recital disc in the Rosenblatt Opera Opus Arte series, which explores Italian composers' interaction with Italian poetry. There are song cycles by Ottorino Respighi and Giuseppe Martucci, a pair of Dante settings by Amicare Ponchielli and by Ciro Pinsuti, and the recital ends with Franz Liszt's Tre sonetti di Petrarca.

The disc opens with a pair of composers, Respighi and Martucci, who both moved away from the Italian emphasis on opera. Perhaps this is why the composers wrote song cycles rather than collections of individual songs. The move is an indication of the influence of non-Italian composition styles, and a move towards the idea of an art song cycle rather than the idea of the song as something written for popular consumption by opera composers.

Rosa Feola & Iain Burnside performing at Rosenblatt Recitals in 2014 - photo Jonathan Rose
Rosa Feola & Iain Burnside performing at Rosenblatt Recitals in 2014
photo Jonathan Rose
Respighi's Quattro rispetti toscana set four folk-inspired poems by Arturo Birga. The texts do not deal in complex concepts, the natural world offering gift to the beloved,  lullaby, the poet asking the wind to tell his beloved he loves her, and a country lad who doesn't dare to approach a girl. Respighi's response is lyric and full of fascinating melodies, with the first two songs having a relaxed feel, whilst in the third song the piano conveys a sense of the wind blowing. In the last song Rosa Feola brings a lovely sense of character to the piece. The music is not always obvious, and there is an attractive tang to the harmonies. But at this stage of his career (the songs were written in 1914 when Respighi was 45), Respighi was certainly not at the cutting edge. Here and throughout the disc Feola has an attractive bright toned voice with a real ping to it and a lovely speaking tone, giving a strong sense of the words.

Dating from three years later, Respighi's Deita silvana (Woodland Deities) sets five poems by Antonio Rubino. Here, perhaps because the poetry has no folk influences, the music is harmonically more complex. The fauns of the first song elicit some attractively poetic music, sometimes inward but with moments of passion. The second song describes gardens filed with music, evoked in perkily colourful music with some fascinating detail and a flickering delicacy in the piano. The dancing nymph, Aegle, is described in passionate, free arioso with Feola bringing real passion to the words. The moving water of the fourth song is described in lyrical, and fascinatingly evocative music. The final song, dusk in an abandoned garden, is quietly complex with attractive colours in both piano and voice.

Whilst Respighi did write opera, but is best known for his orchestral music, Giuseppe Martucci wrote no opera at all. His Tre pezzi is his last original work, dating from 1905-6 and setting poem by Giosue Carducci. The first praises May, in a lyric arioso with very much the sense of sung poetry. The piano accompaniment is complex, and detailed, with a spicy harmonic world. In the second song the poet addresses a pomegranate tree, here I found slight hint of Debussy in the piano writing though the vocal line has similar free arioso to the first song. The final song, snow falling on a frozen landscape, is slower, serious and rather intense. I found these pieces rather a discovery and certainly wondered why we have not heard them more often.

Amilcare Ponchielli is best known for his opera La Gioconda. His Dante setting sets the words Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare (My lady looks so gentle and pure) and dates from 1865 (10 years before La Gioconda).  I have to confess I found this a bit unsatisfactory, perhaps slightly undercooked. It is a lyrical arioso, with a vocal line which wanders somewhat evoking fragments of melody. Ciro Pinsuti spent much time in London working as a singing teacher and accompanist, and teaching at the Royal Academy. His Dante setting dates from 1864 and sets the same sonnet as Ponchielli. A serious piece it is pleasant if conventional.

Liszt's three Petrarch settings were written originally in the mid 1840's, though he later reworked them for solo piano and also revised the songs. The idea for the songs seems to have started when Liszt was in Italy in 1838 with his mistress Marie d'Agoult. Originally written for tenor and piano, Liszt revised them for baritone. Rosa Feola is singing the tenor version though I don't know if any adjustments have been made in the piano to allow for the octave transposition of the vocal line. The songs are bel canto, with Liszt imbibing the spirit of Bellini and his endless melody. Feola sings with a lovely vibrant line, and a feeling for the way the words shape Liszt's music. No matter how consummate Feola's artistry and beautiful her tone though, I have to confess that I prefer the songs in their tenor versions.

This is a fascinating and slightly surprising recital, with a number of gems of which I had been hitherto unaware. Rosa Feola brings a lovely speaking tone and sense of the words to these lyrical songs, and throughout she is finely supported by pianist Iain Burnside.

Rosa Feola and Iain Burnside performing at Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
January 2014

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1939) - Quattro rispetti toscani
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1939) - Deita silvane
Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) - Tre pezzi Op.84
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886) - Sonetto di Dante
Ciro Pinsuti (1829-1888) - Sonetto di Dante
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) - Tre sonetti di Petrarca S158
Rosa Feola (soprano)
Iain Burnside (piano)
Recorded 8-10 April 2015, All Saints Church, East Finchley
OPUS ARTE OA CD9039 D 1CD [60.35]

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