Barbara Frittoli & James Vaughan

Ah! Perfido, Op.65
Guarda, che Bianca luna, D688/2
Da quel sembiante appresi, D688/3
Mio ben ricordati, D688/4
Nel boschetto, D738
Felice arrivo e congendo, D767
Vaga luna, che inargenti
In solitaria stanza
La promessa
L’invitation au voyage
Chanson triste
Sérénade Florentine
Le manor de Rosamonde
Au pays où se fait la guerre

Barbara Frittoli (soprano) & James Vaughan (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 6 October, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Few – if any! – Italian singers have made a name for themselves in the field of song. This leaves one with a sense of loss: the thought of such great artists as Bergonzi, Callas or Gobbi essaying, say, Schubert or Chausson, would have been a mouth-watering prospect. So I was hoping that Barbara Frittoli would prove an exception to the rule.

The programme was certainly peculiar – the only reason I could see for the inclusion of “Ah! Perfido” is that it is in Italian. Frittoli’s use of a music-stand and scores placed in front of her hardly inspired confidence; nor did James Vaughan’s crude introduction to the Beethoven. Frittoli’s opening phrase was certainly operatic in its attack, but as the piece progressed a number of problems arose. The dynamic range never included anything below piano, the middle of the voice lacked precision and control, note values were vague, it was difficult to make out the words and there was nothing other than grand emotional gesturing. The words seemed to carry absolutely no meaning for the singer.

Schubert’s Italian songs brought no greater insight. The phrasing was bland and the line lacked variation. Nowhere was there any attention to the text. In ‘Da quel semblante appresi’ I kept expecting Frittoli to burst into a Bellini aria, such was her lack of restraint! ‘Mio ben ricordati’ was further let down by a drab foursquare accompaniment. The final Schubert song was simply dull; there was no understanding or illumination of the text.

Throughout the first half most of the words were unclear; above piano it was almost impossible to hear anything other than occasional syllables. Only when Frittoli scaled the voice down and sang softly did the text become intelligible. Regrettably, Vaughan’s accompaniment showed little insight.

The second half was devoted to songs by Duparc, which I think were sung in the original French language! As before, there was virtually no response to the text. The ability to highlight a word, mould a phrase, pause, hollow the tone and use a very wide dynamic and tonal range were completely absent. In the first song, there were sudden swells of tone that conveyed nothing; in ‘Phidylé’ there was no rapture and expectancy at the opening and the soaring climax was underpowered; ‘Sérénade Florentine’ lacked any emotional pointing. This was by some way the worst singing of Duparc that I have ever heard. Vaughan’s playing was little better.

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