Luca Pisaroni & Wolfram Rieger at Wigmore Hall [Schubert, Rossini & Liszt]

Il modo di prender moglie, D902/3; L’incanto degli occhi, D902/1; Il traditor deluso, D902/2
La promessa; L’esule; L’orgia
Im Rhein, im schönen Strome; Vergiftet sind meine Lieder; O lieb, so lang du liebn kannst; Die Vätergruft; Tre sonetti di Petrarca

Luca Pisaroni (baritone) & Wolfram Rieger (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: 6 March, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Luca Pisaroni. Photograph:  Marco BorggreveLuca Pisaroni is best known internationally for his Mozart roles in the Da Ponte operas. This recital was his Wigmore Hall debut in Art-Song, the programme a scaled-down version of one he is touring with Wolfram Rieger. Pisaroni’s voice is not a large one (No ambitions to move up into the dramatic baritone repertoire, it would seem, though he was brought up in Verdi country in Busseto.) Nor is it resplendent as sheer sound. Bass resonance does not extend very far downwards and he seemed reluctant to open out on top. However, his vocal resources were productively used throughout to make words tell.

The original order of Schubert’s three Italian imitations was modified, so as to start with the colourful Rossinian lesson in choosing a wife, its bewilderingly contrasted sections leaving no time for a challenge to the anonymous poet’s egregious justification for his mercenary behaviour. There was little in the way of nods and winks in Pisaroni’s demeanour so this was not too direct an impersonation of Rossini’s Figaro. The love-song with its chugging accompaniment and much repetition of Metastasio’s text was perfect music to unwind to after earlier exertions; as it slowly faded to nothing in its final bars. To complete the set came a late-eighteenth-century mad-scene with tumultuous recitative preceding a da capo aria, the pianist enacting the (un)natural phenomena which so frighten the poet and the singer revealing the dramatic dimension of his voice.

Then the ‘real’ Rossini. For a predominantly vocal composer it was surprising to find Rieger taking the lead in these songs, especially “L’orgia”, in which the Schwung of his flamboyant interludes depicted the drunken man’s loss of inhibition more than the singer. The latter was limited to some slurring of the words “Del mondo signor” and a hint of unsteadiness on his feet towards the end, but all rather restrained in what should be a singer’s feast.

Wolfram Rieger. Photograph: Vohler & VohlerSurprisingly for a singer associated with leading roles in Mozart comedies, Pisaroni seemed more at home and had most impact in the more-dour environment of songs by Liszt. The composer gets to the heart of Heine’s psychological world, in the implied desolation of “Im Rhein, im schönen Strome” and in the agonised cries of and disconnected tonality of “Vergiftet sind meine Lieder”. The fact that the main theme of “O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst” is shared with the Liebestraum in A flat may have led to the song being underrated. In fact there is much more to the setting of Ferdinand Freiligrath’s words than the well-known melody which has become rather hackneyed. Pisaroni applied lots of colour, darkening his tone at the mention of death and mourning, then flooding it with warmth when singing of love being reciprocated. In the passage before the reprise what is a general recommendation seemed to be informed by a personal experience, a feeling strengthened by the long, thoughtful postlude. “Die Vätergruft” is quite a different kind of song, a macabre ballad. It provided evidence of Pisaroni’s powers as a story-teller in the scene-setting of the old warrior’s arrival at the family vault and of the singer’s vocal control in the frozen description of the ghostly figure’s falling into eternal sleep. An experienced horror-movie actor could hardly have made it scarier, though the singer could not summon up quite enough power to match the piano in the thunderous words with which the old man declares his willingness to die.

These Sunday afternoon recitals at Wigmore Hall, brief and interval-free, are generally relaxed affairs but by no means insubstantial and ending with Liszt’s “Petrarch Sonnets” in their original version was no exception. My last few encounters with this work have been from operatic tenors and there was a palpable sense of loss without the thrill of the stratospheric optional high notes. In exchange for dropping the virtuosity Pisaroni certainly donned the poet’s identity, seemingly quite as much at home in the paradoxes of ‘Pace non trovo’ as in the accumulation of tributes to Laura in ‘Benedetto sia’il giorno’ His body language gave subtle support to his treatment of the words. Unfortunately he was too eager to cover his top notes, repeatedly producing a kind of muddy moan.

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