Celso Albelo & Juan Francisco Parra at Wigmore Hall – Rosenblatt Recital

Poema en forma de canciones
Doce canciones populares – Pampamapa
Cuatro canciones coloniales – Ya me voy a retirar
Doce canciones populares – El sampedrino
Dos canciones; Canción del árbol del olvido
Augusto Brandt
Besos en mis sueños
Manuel Penella
Don Gil de Alcalá – Detén tu lado passo
Amadeo Vives
Doña Francisquita – Por el humo se sabe
Ernesto Lecuano
Danza de los Ñañigos
L’elisir d’amore – Una furtiva lagrima
Lucia di Lammrmoor – Tombe degli avi miei…..Fra poco a me ricovero
La favorita – Spirto gentil
Rigoletto – La donna è mobile

Celso Albelo (tenor) & Juan Francisco Parra (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: 16 September, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Celso Albelo. Photograph: Joan Tomas / Fidelio ArtistTiming has often been of the essence in engaging singers for Rosenblatt Recitals. Though there have been plenty of ‘Rosenblatt Rookies’, not all have been up-and-coming young voices: a small number have been established artists, even senior figures (as I would describe Michele Pertusi and Lucio Gallo). A third group, to which Celso Albelo belongs, has served its apprenticeship and has reached a point in its career when the publicity and kudos attached to the Rosenblatt series is beneficial to career development. So, Albelo’s London recital-debut (two years after his initial Elvinos at Covent Garden) comes at just the right moment.

The programme was constructed to showcase two sides of the singer’s art. The first half, based on the concert platform, consisted of song, with vocal music to Spanish words by composers from that country and Latin America. In the second half the emphasis moved to the stage, and finally reached Italian opera via the Spanish theatrical tradition in two zarzuela arias.

Of the first half I heard grumbles that the mood was too uniformly melancholic and nostalgic, to which I would add that the music was largely unchallenging both to singer and listener. Certainly Albelo was not greatly tested by the Spanish songs in terms of vocal strength, and the tessitura lay comfortably for him. However, he displayed a voice under perfect control, moving between registers, managing dynamic changes and rubato with assurance, and applying taste and artistry consistently to both poetry and music.

The Guastavino songs may be quite flimsy, and three only felt like short measure, but the subjective poetry of each of them is embellished by its musical setting. If ‘El sampedrino’ is characterised by an unpretentious, rather sugary harmonic beauty and performers have to cope with the alternation of major and minor keys. Abelo and Juan Francisco Parra were convincing here, and captured the flavour of the rather different sentiments behind the two other settings, the wistfulness of ‘Pampamapa’ and the regret of ‘Ya me voy a retirar’. In the latter, Albelo’s sudden forte in the last stanza was well judged.

Juan Francisco ParraThe partnership with Parra was clearly a practised one. Indeed, the pair had given a similar recital in Pesaro only a month before. Vocal aficionados normally resent the intrusion into recitals of instrumental works, but even the most possessive could not have failed to be impressed by Parra’s virtuoso performance at the keyboard. The term “accompanist” does not do him justice. His understanding of the style of 1930s’ popular music and his execution of the instrumental part in the Venezuelan composer Augusto Brandt’s song about his lover’s kisses was impeccable. He went a long way to an achievement that seemed unlikely, replacing the orchestral power and colours in the ‘romanza’ from Doña Francisquita, and I do not recall the introduction to the ‘Lamento di Federico’ (Albelo’s first encore) ever sounding so magically soft. That is not to mention his solo pieces: the opening dedication of Turina’s collection, in which he emphasised the varied textures and contrasting treatment of the melodic material, and the taxing Dance of the Negroes, by the Cuban pianist and composer Lecuona, to which he brought weight and frantic excitement. The Turina is indeed a work in which voice and piano compete for supremacy and, while the voice may win in both ‘Cantares’ and ‘Las locas por amor’, the pianist has a long peroration in ‘Los dos miedos’ to which the singer has no answer.

After the interval Albelo immediately released his full voice, with two stentorian fortissimos announcing Don Gil’s love in Penella’s zarzuela (a rather lightweight piece). In Vives’s inspired ‘romanza’ I detected some loss of momentum in the middle section, which was not properly recovered when the main tune returned. Finally Italy was reached, with no fall-off in the singer’s enunciation, which was as idiomatic as in his native tongue. If the first half was spent seeking subtleties of interpretation the second offered visceral thrills. Albelo applied some delicacy to Nemorino’s aria, which contained some lovely effects, as well as some moments where the voice did not entirely obey its owner. For the remainder of the published programme volume ruled: the tenor’s voice was converted in the other Italian pieces to what sounded like a red-blooded spinto tenor, ready to add verismo parts to the bel canto, repertoire that is currently his own.

Nothing was spared at the dramatic moments of both recitative and aria in Edgardo’s last-Act scena, and by the time ‘Spirto gentil’ was reached my ears were ringing. This was an ideal fulfilment of the slogan which adorns the cover of the programme book: “Discover the power of the voice”! Albelo is known for the accuracy and weight of his top notes in opera, so it was doubtless inevitable that he would choose the ubiquitous tenor aria from La Fille du régiment as his final encore. I have heard the nine top Cs more tidily launched. This aria surely needs a rest. Nevertheless, I will not be surprised if Albelo reaches the top rank of operatic tenors; he sounds ready for Rodolfo.

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