Malìa; Non t’amo più; L’ultima canzone
Nell’orrror di notte oscura; Non t’accostare all’urna
Les contes d’Hoffmann – Scintille, diamant
Otello – Vanne … Credo in un Dio crudel
Dolente immagine di Fille mia
Amore e morte
Andrea Chénier – Nemico della patria
Dimitri Platanias (baritone) & Gary Matthewman (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: 16 June, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The majority of the artists engaged by Ian Rosenblatt for his immensely successful series have been, if not in the first flush of youth, at least fresh-faced enough to suggest limited experience and plenty of ropes yet to be learnt. Reading through that extraordinary long list of participants, one’s consistent mental image is of youngsters eager to impress. Very occasionally this trend has been interrupted by an established artist, such as Michele Pertusi and Lucio Gallo.
Dimitri Platanias has something of a foot in both camps. Physically, he resembles a grizzled veteran but has only recently begun to appear in the major roles for dramatic baritone. I would guess him to be in his mid-forties. Not as much a ‘late developer’ as a gifted musician who took a long time to decide on a precise career direction. He graduated jointly in classical guitar and singing, and it was only in 2000 that he made the decision to pursue a singing career. The time since has been well spent. He shows every indication of a long and dedicated process of study which has brought about vocal growth and technical security, for which his gifts have clearly destined him. A high degree of self-confidence is also unmistakable and his degree in English Language and Literature won’t do him any harm either!
There was though something artificial about Platanias’s programme-building: he would first pay obligatory homage to Italian song before switching to the real business of the evening: arias from the Italian dramatic repertoire. There was little doubt in which area he felt most at home. The songs were sung with the discreet help of a music stand, while the arias needed no such prop. He used the blocks of Italian song to establish credibility as something more than a powerful voice. The success rate varied: his attempts at mezza voce in the Bellini and Donizetti was disciplined and musical, if not entirely comfortable. Two songs of the 25-year-old Verdi acted as a bridge to operatic music. In them can be seen the composer’s first faltering steps in finding methods to convey intense feelings through musical means. In ‘Nell’orror di notte oscura’ the poet fears betrayal by his lover and threatens to reveal it to the world, in ‘Non t’accostare all’urna’ he rejects empty, belated declarations of sadness.
Platanias had on this occasion a willing, thoughtful and enlightened partner. Gary Matthewman is one of the leading figures of the new generation of accompanists; to his credit he took the opportunities offered by the music with enthusiasm. I doubt if much time is devoted to Tosti in the courses of Western European music colleges but the three contrasted Tosti items here were wholeheartedly delivered, with the piano to the fore. The insistent syncopations and sweet melody of ‘Malìa’, the peremptory regular chords of ‘Non t’amo più’ and the restless, swirling lines of ‘L’ultima canzone’ had no hint of the routine. That old staple ‘Musica proibita’, however, was monochrome.
The first operatic aria was a surprising choice. Even granted that ‘Scintille diamant’ is an interpolation in the Venice scene of The Tales of Hoffmann, it still deserves to be performed in idiomatic style, with elegance hiding the menace, not, as here, with consistently burly tone unchanged throughout and cloudy French text. However, in the Italian arias the words were particularly strongly pointed. His performance of Iago’s ‘Credo’ gave credence to the view that this role in Verdi’s Otello should soon be his. The venom with which he delivered Iago’s views on determinism landed like lashes on our backs. If he sometime strayed near to Sprechgesang, in the passage beginning “Credo che il giusto” the way he built tension in the final question and answer had the pure, perfect timing of a natural stage animal.
‘Eri tu’ was another joint triumph. The transition to fond memories of past happiness is first stated in the accompaniment and it was typical of Matthewman to make the most of this before the voice entered. Both singer’s and pianist’s treatment of the lovely melody ‘O dolcezze perdute’ gave me gooseflesh. Even when his thoughts were of affection and friendship, Platanias remained in character as a hard man.
The voice itself is a perfect fit with the repertoire on which he has chosen to embark: it is difficult to imagine that Wigmore Hall has ever been filled with as enormous a sound by a single voice as it was on this occasion. Now that he has broken through, audiences are hearing a voice in its prime and a singer in total command of his instrument. The surface is smooth no matter how much pressure is placed on it, and not a hint of unsteadiness has yet invaded the tone. There is some lack of variety in his dynamics and expression, curiously most noticeably in the operatic pieces, but he certainly is not one of those singers who overload their recitals with lavish helpings of melodramatic movement and gesture.
Both musicians revelled in the rhetoric of ‘Nemico della patria’. The accompanist typically made the most of the gestures in the opening phrases. Platanias responded to all the emotional and intellectual twists and turns of this demanding aria, the final lines of which served as a second encore (the first was Rodrigo’s death scene).
A debate is currently prevalent among vocal connoisseurs about the supposed dearth of Verdi baritones. Here, it seems, is a singer to plug any gaps among the personnel at the top of that voice category.