United States Various composers: Piotr Beczała (tenor), Martin Katz (piano), Carnegie Hall, New York, 28.2.2018. (RP)
Donaudy – Selections from 36 Arie di Stile Antico: ‘Vaghissima sembianza’, ‘Freschi luoghi, prati aulenti’, ‘O del mio amato ben’
Wolf-Ferrari – Rispetti Op.11 Nos.2, 3 & 4: ‘Jo dei saluti ve ne mando mille’, ‘E tanto c’è pericol ch’io ti lasci’, ‘O sì che non sapevo sospirare’; Rispetti Op.12 No.1: ‘Quando ti vidi a quel canto apparire’
Resphigi – ‘Lagrime’, ‘Scherzo’, ‘Stornellatrice’, ‘Nevicata’, ‘Pioggia’, ‘Nebbie’
Tosti – ‘Ideale’, ‘Malinconia’ No.5: ‘Chi sei tu che mi parli’, ‘L’ultima canzone’
Szymanowski – Six Songs Op.2
Karłowicz – Songs Op.1 No.1: ‘To a sorrowful girl’; Songs Op. 3 Nos.4, 6, 8, 10: ‘On the calm, dark sea’, ‘Before eternal night’, ‘In the calm of the evening’, ‘The Enchanted Princess’; ‘Sometimes when I drowsily dream’, ‘Rust-colored leaves’
Moniuszko – ‘Two Dawns’, ‘The Loom’, ‘Little Wild Rose’, ‘The Kraków Boy’
Sometimes all you want to do is sit back and enjoy a beautiful voice. So it was with Piotr Beczała singing Italian songs at Carnegie Hall: the high notes that bloomed effortlessly, the softest of pianissimos that caressed your ears, the elegant phrases. Then there was Martin Katz, who has accompanied so many fine singers over the years, at the piano. The man truly ‘tinkles the ivories’, never more so than in Resphigi’s ‘Pioggia’, where his delicate touch created the shimmering sounds of a gentle rain on a summer day.
The songs of Stefano Donaudy, Romantic takes on the Baroque, have attracted singers of all sorts, including the great Enrico Caruso, the Heldentenor James King and the lyric-coloratura Sumi Jo to name just a few, and Beczała can be added to their ranks. By the time he finished ‘O del mio amato ben’, his conquest was complete, and I just wanted to kick back and luxuriate in the music.
Rispetti are love poems that probably originated in ancient Sicily and were popular in Tuscany during the Renaissance; even Lorenzo de’ Medici penned them. Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s settings of modern rispetti date from the early years of his marriage and are tender love songs, except for the tarantella, ‘O sì che non sapevo sospirare’, in which the poet sighs at the mere sight of his beloved. More than a few people in the audience were swooning by the time Beczała had tossed off that one.
Ottorino Resphigi’s songs are of a more subtle nature. Like Donaudy, he looked to the past, although his inspiration came from the classical era. His songs sat a bit lower in Beczała’s voice, which suited just fine. Resphigi’s piano accompaniments, like his orchestral works, are full of color and rich harmonies in which Katz reveled.
The first half ended with the songs of Paolo Tosti, who composed some of the most gracious melodies ever written for the voice. His songs, with their combination of Italian melody and Neapolitan dash, charm many, including Queen Victoria back in the day. My only complaint is that there were just three of them to savor.
The second half of the recital was devoted to Polish composers, whom the tenor champions. Karol Szymanowski’s opera Krol Roger has been staged at Covent Garden, Santa Fe and other houses (I saw it in Wrocław.), but his songs are encountered far less often. The six that comprise Opus 2 are his earliest songs and attest to his youthful obsession with Wagner.
Mieczysław Karłowicz was one of Poland’s leading neo-Romantics who, before his untimely death at the age of thirty-two in an avalanche while skiing, had decided to devote his energies to symphonic works. His songs date from his youth and those that Beczała chose were bittersweet and poignant, their emotions etched in fine vocal lines and evocative piano accompaniments. He appears to have a special affinity with the songs of this tragically short-lived composer.
A generation older than Szymanowski and Karłowicz, Stanisław Moniuszko kept his artistic ambitions in check to garner greater public appeal. Folk themes, rhythms and melodies are at the core of his songs, as well his opera Halka (also seen in Wrocław) which holds the same pride of place for Poles as does Smetana’s The Bartered Bride for Czechs. Beczała ended the recital with lighter fare, closing with the jaunty song of a happy-go-lucky boy from Kraków.
Beczała cast a spell, for the audience was silent: I don’t recall a single cough or sneeze. And Moniuszko could indeed gauge popular appeal, as each of his songs elicited spontaneous bursts of applause. I could, however, neither begrudge this breach of concert hall etiquette, nor the woman sitting near me singing along to them. First of all, how often does anyone get to hear Moniuszko songs performed so splendidly, and secondly, one had to marvel that she knew the words.
Two young men from the audience presented the artists with red and white bouquets, Poland’s national colors. Then, the encores flowed. Beczała said that Karłowicz’s ‘I Remember Quiet, Clear Golden Days’, which he sang so softly and tenderly, was one of his favorite songs. Another by the same composer followed, ‘The Most Beautiful Songs’, and then ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’ by Dvořák. That popular gypsy melody brought out a different romantic fervor in the tenor’s singing.
He had performed the Italian songs with the scores on a music stand in front of him. It was there for the Polish ones too, but the downward glances were fewer, gradually fading away altogether. It was moved to the side for the encores, and for his fourth and final one, ‘Zueignung’, Beczała stood front and center. (He has some of the best posture in the business.) His voice blazed in Strauss’ soaring hymn of transcendent love. It was stunning – that’s up a notch or two from beautiful.