Ekaterina Siurina celebrates the song-writing talents of four great composers better known for their operas in a recital of flirtatious, passionate and grief-stricken lovers plighting their troths...

Bellini
L’abbandono; Malinconia, ninfa gentile; Ma rendi pur contento; Il fervido desiderio; Bella Nice, che d’amore
Donizetti
La conocchia; Amore e morte; A mezzanotte; Amor marinaro; Eterna amore a fè; La zingara
Rossini
La pastorella dell’Alpi; La gita in gondola; La promessa; La fioraia fiorentina
Verdi
Stornello; Perduta ho la pace; Lo spazzacamino; Ad una stella
Ekaterina Siurina (soprano) & Iain Burnside (piano)

Recorded 15-18 February 2010 at St Paul’s Church, Woodland Road, New Southgate, London
CD No: OPUS ARTE
OA CD9017 D
Duration: 58 minutes
Reviewed: December 2013
Unlike Germany, France or Britain, Italy has little tradition of Art Song, settings of verse by poets for performance by solo singers with piano accompaniment. Away from avowedly popular material the nearest thing is what is loosely termed ‘Neapolitan’ song (‘Romantic songs’ might be a better term), of the kind which Italian opera singers use as encores in recitals. The one Italian composer of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century whose compositions for voice and piano have the musical craftsmanship without the vulgarity to have some pretensions as serious, non-operatic vocal music is Tosti. Several of his songs are much appreciated by singers, especially tenors. In critical opinion, however, they are described by that most sneering of descriptions: salon music.
This leaves settings written mainly as potboilers by the leading opera composers of the nineteenth-century which form the contents of this release. They are mainly written in the operatic style of their composers and all were set-down during the primo ottocento period of Italian opera when beauty of sound and technical accomplishment were paramount.
Rossini is the doyen of the bel canto composers and is placed at the centre of the recital. He was prodigiously gifted, establishing the conventions which were drawn upon by Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante, Pacini and others in their operas and initially by Verdi as a basis on which he developed his own personal, evolving style. It is a matter of regret that Rossini ceased writing operas after Guillaume Tell of 1829, when he was only 37. His remaining years were spent in virtual retirement, a father-figure presiding over soirées attended by musical and literary figures, latterly in Paris. There were compositions during those years but they were exclusively miniatures which could hardly have taxed a musician of Rossini’s gifts.
Soirées musicales dates from the early 1830s and the first three songs of his on this disc are from that collection. ‘La pastorella dell’Alpi’ is based on a brilliant imitation of a yodel, with which Ekaterina Siurina copes well, with a smile in her tone. She decorates the melodic line in her last paragraph, while Iain Burnside introduces a hint of rubato into his interludes. ‘La gita in gondola’ is a beautiful barcarole; the gondola sways, the water laps as the poet urges the gondolier to unite him with his sweetheart, promising her his kisses and caresses.
The text of ‘La promessa’ is by Metastasio, the poet who supplied composers with librettos for countless operas in the eighteenth-century. His poetry provided generic arias which could be inserted where a particular theme or situation required it. In ‘La promessa’ a lover declares his constancy. Recognisable by the high octaves in the accompaniment, it may not be Rossini’s most distinguished effort in this form but Siurina devotes some sparkling embellishments to the repeated section and to the coda; her understanding of style is as thorough as her technique in this music. Evidence of Rossini’s playful scepticism about this post-retirement stage of his life is the title of Péchés de ma vieillesse (Sins of my old age) which he applied to these compositions. From that collection comes ‘La fioraia fiorentina’. This could well have fitted into a comic opera as the flower girl plies her trade, quoting the plight of her poor, lonely mother as an emotional lever to attract customers. Nothing on this CD is as much in the operatic idiom as this: runs and scales abounded and the climax takes Siurina up to an E flat in altissimo.
From the Bellini of the theatre we expect slow, intense cantilena. ‘Ma rendi pur contento’, another setting of a Metastasio text with a theme of selfless devotion, is more andante than adagio. Siurina’s steady line and purity of tone are here to the fore, while in ‘Il fervid desiderio’, written in the style of an operatic romanza and a conventional one at that, the composer is sparing with the technical difficulties: disappointing for the listener perhaps but reassuring for the amateur singer in the salon previously mentioned. ‘L’abbandono’ shows a lot more adventure. The prelude is almost improvisatory and, once begun, the song bustles along before unusually fading away in the final bars.
Donizetti offers more in the way of rhythmic verve in ‘La conocchia’ and ‘A mezzanotte’, though the latter particularly is trite stuff. We know from his operas that Donizetti had a sense of humour and it comes to the fore in ‘Amor marinaro’, which ends with a string of rising trills and a massive stringendo. In ‘La zingara’ he seems to want to surprise the listener and begins with several phrases on a single note before launching the main tune, then throws in an unexpected sforzando on the word “garzone” (lad) to wake us. There are runs of varied range, shape and difficulty which Siurina sings faultlessly.
Arguably Italian song, such as it was, went backward from Rossini. Who should restore its wit, imagination and musical interest but Verdi; the great master on the evidence here was as superior to his predecessors in song as he was in opera. He set no less a poem than Gretchen am Spinnrade and a decent shot of it he made, too. The significant repeated strophe “Perduta ho la pace…” is set to an accompaniment of heavy chords which suggest Gretchen’s ongoing misery, while the intervening verses describe the impact of Faust both present and absent. A dark rumble in the bass reflects her fear of the dark when he is not at her side, her mental confusion alternating semiquavers in the left and right hands. Thinking of the sight of Faust, his bearing, his facial expression brings forth a modulation into the tonic major and, when reference is made to his kiss, a glorious resolution. Of course it’s not Schubert in execution but similar ideas are shared by the two composers.
In the words of the old cliché, one song is worth the price of the disc alone: the spectacular performance of ‘Lo spazzacamino’ (The chimney-sweep). In a chugging 2/4 the tradesman assures us how much he enjoys his work (marked brillante and con slancio); then he bursts into an exhilarating waltz, both given full value by the two artists here. Burnside judges well when to be prominent and when to withdraw.
Ekaterina Siurina has been notably successful to date in the lyric coloratura repertoire: there is an occasional occlusion in her tone as she ascends the scale, slightly reminiscent of Renata Scotto. I wonder if she may follow that soprano into heavier roles. Meanwhile this release, which includes texts and translations, is something of a collector’s item.

 

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