Anna Caterina Antonacci and Donald Sulzen: "L'Alba Separa Dalla Luce L'Ombra"
Songs by Cesti, Cilèa, Hahn, Refice, Respighi and Tosti. Sulzen, piano. Texts and translations. Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE0054
Anna Caterina Antonacci begins this 2011 recital of Italian songs with five selections from Reynaldo Hahn's delightful cycle Venezia — numbers that Joyce DiDonato included in A Journey through Venice, her own Wigmore Hall Live recital, recorded in 2006 with Julius Drake at the piano. The comparison between the two singers is telling. Take the melismatic vocalises that punctuate the languid "La barcheta." Here, DiDonato's smoky, mellow timbre immediately, viscerally evokes the seductive night air. Antonacci has no recourse to this strategy. Her tone has a distinct component of acidity; moreover, the melismas are less evenly sung. But her clarity of intent makes her reading every bit as convincing. The tempo is considerably faster than the one taken on the DiDonato disc. Antonacci and her pianist, Donald Sulzen, aren't asking us to bask in her sound; they want us to listen to what she's saying. Her finely graded dynamics — with each repetition of the vocalise progressively quieter — lead us ever further into the song's atmosphere of amorous languor. Moreover, their color grows out of the crisply articulated text in the verbal portion of the song, and the whole is bound together into an integral statement. Antonacci achieves the desired seduction, but she does it on her own terms.
The recital was part of Wigmore's lunchtime series, and the programming seems thoroughly appropriate to the time of day. The songs stimulate the palate without overwhelming it, and the hour-long program provides enough aesthetic nourishment to sustain the listener through the afternoon, without any risk of post-prandial heaviness. But even if the material isn't profound, Antonacci's full-on commitment makes every number count.
In Quattro Canzoni d'Amaranto, settings of d'Annunzio texts, Antonacci and Sulzen take Paolo Tosti firmly out of the Victorian parlor and into a realm where passions can play out unchecked. Francesco Cilèa's 1886 "Serenata" is recognizably the work of the composer who in Adriana Lecouvreur so effectively evoked the high spirits backstage at the Comédie Française. But the 1923 "Nel ridestarmi" could have come from a different pen: the shadow of Debussy now looms large. The recital's most intriguing programming, though, comes at the end, in the pairing of Antonio Cesti's 1656"Intorno all'idol mio" with Ottorino Respighi's 1920 "Sopra un'aria antica." The Respighi song uses the old aria as a memento of a vanished love affair; against its melody, the singer declaims the d'Annunzio text in quasi-recitative fashion. Here, Antonacci's gift for investing song with the qualities of human speech makes her an ideal interpreter.
People who have seen Antonacci perform live (I unfortunately cannot count myself among their number) tell me that her physical presence is a key element of her appeal. Still, this recording provides a rewarding encounter with an indisputably compelling singer.
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