Joseph Calleja: "Amore"
Songs by Tosti, Morricone, Leoncavallo, Curtis, Donaudy, Tchaikovsky, di Capua and others. With Sidorova; Benedetti, violin; BBC Concert Orchestra, Mercurio. Decca 0289 478 5340
Tenor Joseph Calleja is such a winning performer that I wish he had curated this recital of popular love songs more thoughtfully. The randomness of the repertoire, which includes Neapolitan standards and songs by Tosti alongside Tchaikovsky's "None but the lonely heart" and vocal arrangements of the guitar Concierto de Aranjuez and a Chopin piano étude, represents Calleja's passion and commitment but displays an inconsistent level of taste. Three songs in Spanish, including "Besame mucho," help reinforce his suave Mediterranean vocalism, but the recital has little shape or consistency.
Calleja is at his best in the warm, intimate numbers, so some of the overblown orchestrations don't help. Lorin Maazel is responsible for two, including the meandering gypsy violin that mars Leoncavallo's "Mattinata." Peter Hope and the recital's conductor, Stephen Mercurio, have provided the most effective and tasteful arrangements, with Italian chestnuts — "La serenata," "Ideale," "Core 'ngrato," "Non ti scordar di me" and "'O sole mio" — among the disc's highlights. Mercurio's arrangement and pacing of "You raise me up" (a rip-off of "Danny Boy" or the Londonderry Air ballad tune) keep the song from swamping the performers, and Calleja's delivery is heartfelt.
"Con te partirò" is an awful piece, even though Calleja sings rings around the performer who put this song in every pizza joint in America. The repetitious "Caruso" is even tackier, and putting them back to back produces a serious bump in the recital road.
For all that, Calleja's sweet sound never tires the ear, and he is a charismatic and sincere singer, with a nice feel for the atmosphere of "La vie en rose" and "In mir klingt ein Lied" (the Chopin transcription), although his German is substandard. The tenor's quick vibrato and open, sunny sound suggest the old-fashioned appeal of a vocal heartthrob. He's the real deal, even in "random play" mode.
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