José Carreras and Edoardo Müller
Songs by Massenet, Fauré, Tosti, Mompou, Turina, Falla. No texts or translations. Orfeo C 871 121 B
José Carreras is in rich form, ranging from fiery to dulcet, in this Mediterranean-flavored song recital from the 1981 Salzburg Festival. For fans of the splendid Spanish tenor, it's like dessert, a distillation of his talents, a draught of vintage Carreras without the distractions and competition that come with an operatic setting. For others, the program may sound like Carreras Lite, a ninety-minute series of encores.
It's also possible to experience the occasion as something of a retrospective on the singer's career. Reminders of his early prominence in light-lyric tenor roles abound, in the curvaceous lines of a Tosti song or the stunning sustained pianissimo that closes "Los dos miedos," by Joaquin Turina. He ventures into harsher, spinto climate in some of the Spanish selections by Falla, with their rugged outlines and rhythms, and his Massenet songs also awaken echoes of a marvelous des Grieux and Werther.
If he nearly overpowers the willowy lines of Fauré's "Après un rêve," the unusual thrust is still welcome in its way and has associations with his late career. Similarly, the last of the five encores, wisely or not, brings Puccini's "Nessun dorma," a nod to the dramatic-tenor adventures that sometimes seemed like a stretch and a risk for this master of more intimate fare. The celebratory mood is almost deflated when his fine, moody shaping of Calàf's melody ends with a truncated high B and a hasty descent — another reminder of the perils of some career choices made by so many Icarus-style tenors.
But that's just one small moment in an otherwise secure, often exciting recital. There's beautiful sound, tasteful phrasing, variety of coloring — so much to admire in the style and form, as the tenor unfolds the expressive layers of a song such as Massenet's "Pensée d'automne." His flexibility is remarkable, as he demonstrates with rhythmic tensions and releases, a shadowed, slightly dragging resistance in the forward motion of the inexorable lines, and his varied use of voix mixte.
A listener can't fail to respond, too, to the spirit of the delivery, the eagerness to please and to stun, but also a sense of sharing music that resonates with him — until, that is, the Iberian folklore and the excited audience run away with him. The samplings of Catalan composer Federico Mompou add some contrast, with moody lines and sometimes harsh chromoticism. But, not content with the stampeding dance rhythms and dark melismatic cries in Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas,Carreras goes on to encores by Cardillo and Lara ("Granada"), which tap a similar vein.
The applause is sometimes welcome, confirming a listener's private excitement after a display such as Tosti's "Aprile," but it becomes intrusive when heard after each of the Falla numbers (a breach of Salzburg etiquette, surely). This sense of a celebratory reunion makes the disc, for all its splendid singing, primarily suitable to die-hard fans. Edoardo Müller, the versatile accompanist, seems to flag a bit only in the Puccini tremolos at the very end.
DAVID J. BAKER
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