Anna Caterina Antonacci & Donald Sulzen at Wigmore Hall – L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra

Intorno all’idol mio
Sopra un’aria antica
Quattro canzoni d’Amaranta
Serenata: Mormorante di tenero desio; Nel ridestarmi; Non ti voglio amar
Ombra di nube

Anna Caterina Antonacci (soprano) & Donald Sulzen (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 5 December, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Anna Caterina Antonacci. Photograph: Serge Derossi/NaiveThis BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert – “Dawn divides the light from the shadows” – proved how much 20th-century Italian song remains relatively unperformed. There could though have been greater variety in terms of selections. As fine as Anna Caterina Antonacci and Donald Sulzen were as a partnership, many of the songs occupied the emotional territory of fervent love.

Beginning with a 17th-century aria, Cesti’s Intorno all’idol mio (Gentle, pleasant breezes), Antonacci’s voice took a while to settle, its vibrato relatively wide. Respighi then provided the bridge between old and new with his florid setting of Sopra un’aria antica (On an old aria), a wordy song that found Antonacci’s lower register to be in extremely good condition. The curious collision of musical languages was expertly marshalled by Sulzen, who provided a solemn postlude to a strangely emotive song.

Tosti’s Quattro canzone d’Amaranta followed, containing the song from which the recital took its name, and hints of tragedy were there in the piano part from the outset. Antonacci was fervent, willing to over-egg the pudding at the climax of the third song ‘In van preghi’ (You beg in vain), while the fourth, ‘Che dici, o parola del Saggio’ (What do the words of the wise man say?) provided a great outpouring of passion. This heady mood held sway through three songs from Cilèa, whose Serenata proved to be unexpectedly dark and dramatic, the piano part shaded carefully by Sulzen. Meanwhile the watery rippling of Nel ridestarmi (On awakening), a song from 1923, spoke distantly of possible influence by Debussy. The most affecting song was the most restrained, Antonacci shaping the chromatic leanings of Non ti voglio amor? (I want not your love?) beautifully and in keeping with the indecision of her subject.

While not Italian by birth, Reynaldo Hahn felt a considerable pull to Venice, and the 1901 cycle named after the city, five songs setting four poets, is perhaps inevitably full of references to water and boats. Again the music was more intense when the singing was quieter, and the vocalise refrain to ‘La barcheta’ (The little boat), the mannered end to ‘L’avertimento’ (The Warning) and the flatter tone in the middle of ‘Sopra l’acqua indormenzada’ (Asleep on the water) were all expressive devices gainfully employed. This song, a lilting berceuse, rocked gently in the left-hand of Sulzen’s piano part. The closing ‘Che pecà’ (What a shame!) has deliciously scrunched-up chords and tongue-twister words, negotiated effortlessly.

There were much longer notes in Refice’s Ombra di nube, a 1935 song. This presented few problems. The encore, Tosti’s Marechiare, was strongly ornamented, if again occupying a similar disposition to the heady content of the rest of the recital.

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