Sunday 28 August 2016

From Bohemia to Portugal: baritone Ricardo Panela in recital

Ben San Lau, Ricardo Panela at St James's Church, Piccadilly
Ben San Lau, Ricardo Panela at St James's Church, Piccadilly
Duparc, Dvorak, Tosti, Piazzolla, Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos, Francisco de Lacerda, Ben San Lau, Ricardo Panela; St James's Church, Piccadilly
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 26 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Lunchtime recital from young Portuguese baritone, with a group of 20th century art songs from his native company

The young Portuguese baritone Ricardo Panela gave a lunch time recital at St James's Church, Piccadilly as part of the Concordia Foundation series, on Friday 26 August 2016. Accompanied by pianist Ben San Lau, Panela gave a programme which traced the art song from France, through the Czech Republic (or perhaps more correctly Bohemia) and Italy to Portugal, with a trip to Argentina too. He sang Dvorak's Ziegeunermelodien, along with songs by Duparc, Tosti and Piazzolla, plus songs by two Portuguese composers Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos and Francisco de Lacerda.

They started with a pair of songs by Henri Duparc, Phydile and La vague et la cloche. Phydile is perhaps harder to bring off sung in a lower octave, but Panela displayed a nice sense of line, controlled and rather inward with a nice focussed town in the more animated moments. He took some time to relax and this first song seemed a little too understated, but his connection with the audience grew throughout the first few songs. I had never heard La vague et la cloche live before, and Panela brought a lovely virile tone to the piece, singing with an admirable evenness of tone across the whole range.
St James's Church is rather a resonant acoustic for a recital, and though the venue seemed to suit Panela's voice admirably, his accompanist seemed to rather misjudge things and rather too often used a great deal more pedal than was necessary so that the piano accompaniment was surrounded by too much aural wash, obscuring the fine details. In the Dvorak group, this compromised the rhythmic vitality needed in this folk-inspired songs.

Dvorak's Zigeunermelodien seven songs setting texts by Adolf Heyduk, was originally written in German in 1880 for the German tenor Gustav Walter, though the cycle has also become known in the Czech versions of the songs whilst the best known song of the set usually known by its English translation, Songs my mother taught me. Panela sang them in the German version. From the first song, Mein Lied ertönt Panela created a virile lyrical vocal line complemented by a vibrant (if overly pedalled) piano. Ei! Wie mein Triangel was lively and engaging, whilst Rings ist der Wald showed quiet calm and control. Als die alte Mutter ('Songs my mother taught me') was sung with a shapely and nicely even line, whilst In dem weiten was vigorous. Both performers brought the right sort of dance-like feel to Reingestimmt die Seiten, finishing with the highly engaging Hörstet hoch der Habicht.

Next came Paolo Tosti's Malia, sung with a fluid line and nice sense of flow. Tosti's songs presuppose a fine technique, which Panela supplied and he also knew just how much to over-do the emotion to make the song work with out going over the top.

The songs by the 20th century Portuguese composer Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos (1910-1974) date from a period when the fascist regime in Portugal was encouraging the composition of Art Song to reinforce nationalist feeling. Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos's Tres Redonhilhas de Camoes sets three songs by the Portuguese poet Luiz de Camoes. We were given no texts for the concert, and for these songs it might have been helpful if Panela had introduced them. The first song was gently thoughtful, lyrical yet quite serious in tone. The style rather romantic 20th century, rather rich in texture but, unsurprisingly, with little sense of the modernist. The second song had a remarkable feel of a patter song in its outer sections, with a more lyrical middle, whilst the final one was profoundly beautiful with a lyric line.

These songs and that of Francisco Lacerda were a lovely discovery, and really lifted the recital giving us a glimpse of another 20th century song tradition.

If  the songs by Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos spoke of 20th century Romanticism, Tenho tantatas saudades the song by Francisco Lacerda (1869-1934) was highly redolent of the Iberian peninsular, full of elegant lyric melancholy. Next came something from South America, Astor Piazzolla's tango Oblivion. Again we had profound melancholy, sung with a lovely fluid line, relaxed yet intense.

Finally, another Tosti song, Marechiare, a vigorous piece in which Panela clearly relished the narrative opportunities. Except of course this wasn't the end of the recital. The audience reaction was very enthusiastic and we were treated to a repeat of the sixth of the Dvorak songs.

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