Thursday 3 November 2016

A climax really worth waiting for: Simone Piazzola at Rosenblatt Recitals

Simone Piazzola - Rosenblatt Recital - photo Jonathan Rose
Simone Piazzola - Rosenblatt Recital
photo Jonathan Rose
Tosti, Liszt, Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi; Simone Piazzola, Giuseppe Vaccaro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 1 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A recital which started rather low key, but climaxed with a stunning trio of Verdi arias at the end.

The young Italian baritone Simone Piazzola made his UK debut on Tuesday 1 November 2016 at a Rosenblatt Recital at the Wigmore Hall. Accompanied by pianist Giuseppe Vaccaro, Piazzola sang a programme which mixed songs by Tosti with arias from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donizetti's La Favourita and Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi's Il Trovatore and Gounod's Faust, whilst Vaccaro played Liszt's Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto and Hungarian Rhapsody No.2.

There is no doubt that Piazzola has baritone voice which is very fine indeed, combining a lovely resonance with a sense of line, fluidity of phrasing and a great sense of the words. He is one of those singers whom you would be happy to hear singing the proverbial laundry list, but to start the programme with a group of five songs by Tosti seemed rather lacking in either confidence or imagination. Thankfully, this was a recital which grew as it progressed. For the arias in the second half, Piazzola got rid of the music stand and sang from memory, thus aiding his communication with the audience. Having finished the recital proper with Il balen from Verdi's Il Trovatore, for his encores Piazzola turned in a vividly intense account of Posa's prison scene from Verdi's Don Carlo and poised performance of Germont's Di provenza il mar from La traviata.

The Tosti songs included the very well known Non t'amo più!, L'Ultima Canzone and Ideale plus the lesser known Chanson de l'adieu and A vuchella. This are not easy songs to sing and Piazzola did so with great beauty of tone and fine control. He sang them as if he really believed them, and whilst he was singing so did we, as we appreciated the intensity of his expression. But by the end of the group we were longing for something a bit meatier.

Simone Piazzola - Rosenblatt Recital - photo Jonathan Rose
Simone Piazzola - Rosenblatt Recital
photo Jonathan Rose
So we were grateful for Giuseppe Vaccaro's account of Liszt's Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto which came in the middle of the Tosti group. Vaccaro played with a lovely sense of bravura and clearly enjoyed himself as much as we did. This was playing in the romantic manner, bold and vivid with a nice freedom and rubato.

The first half ended with Don Giovanni's Serenade from Mozart's opera. Piazzola sang this in the same style, with a very romantic approach to phrasing. Yet the combination of his beautifully resonant voice and caress to the phrases was very seductive, though Vaccaro's piano accompaniment seemed more matter of fact.

In the second half, moving to operatic arias from 19th century opera, Piazzola seemed on surer ground. He is a highly communicative singer, and though his hand gestures and sense of characterisation seemed a little generic, there is no doubt that the music and his voice are wonderfully well suited. I was also very impressed that we got the caballetas for both the Donizetti arias. First came Vien Leonora from Donizetti's La favorita (sung in Italian), where we could appreciate the intensity of his long-breathed lines in the cavatina, followed by a terrific caballeta sung vibrantly with admirably firm tone. Next came a fierce account of Cruda, funesta smania from Lucia di Lammermoor with a great sense of drama and a fine top F at the end. Piazzola is a big man, and certainly has the physique du role for the 19th century villains in Italian opera.

Vaccaro then played another Liszt piano solo, this time the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. A richly vibrant account of the work, full of strong rhythms with a firm snap to them, and he showed a terrific sense of style as well as technical ability.

With Valentin's Avant de quitter ces lieux from Gounod's Faust, Piazzola showed us that he can do far more than be fierce. Here he gave the music a lovely long-breathed sense of line, combined with a nice intensity. The only thing wanting was a greater degree of correctness in some of the French vowels. Finally, Il balen from Verdi's Il Trovatore, where Piazzola displayed a finely supported, full baritone voice with a great feel for Verdi's style.

Quite how great that feel was, we found it in the encores. First off was the prison scene from Verdi's Don Carlo where Piazzola sang both of Posa's arias (in Italian), the applause after the first covering the gap in the narrative. This performance seemed to take Piazzola to a different place, and showed what he really could do. He combined the beauty of tone and intensity we had heard before with a new depth and particularity to the characterisation. It was a daringly down-beat choice for an encore, but rightly formed the climax to the whole recital. As a second encore we were treated to Giorgio Germont's Di provenza il mar from La traviata, sung with poise and lovely control.

This was one of those recitals which developed from something fine into something really special. Piazzola has a profoundly beautiful voice, and clearly knows how to use it and his performances of the Verdi arias really showed why he is making a name for himself in the repertoire and I do hope we can hear him again soon.

You can catch Piazzola on DVD:

  • Verdi: Il Traviata - conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, directed Rolando Villazon, Olga Peretytko, Atalla Ayan, Simone Piazzola, Balthasar Neuman Ensemble (released 11/11/2016)
  • Verdi: Don Carlo - conducted by Fabrizio Ventura, directed by Joseph Franconi Lee, Giacomo Prestia, Mario Malagnini, Simone Piazzola (2013)

Elsewhere on this blog:

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