Vittorio Grigolo: "Ave Maria"
With Evancho. Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta and I Pueri Cantores della Cappella Musicale Pontificia detta Sistina, various conductors. Texts and translations. Sony Classical 88883786372
Vittorio Grigolo seems to be safely navigating operatic waters, as well as the pools of popular music, and a new disc showcases his suave, supple voice in sacred music with an everyday appeal. The tenor received early training as a boy chorister in the Sistine Chapel Choir at the Vatican, and the present-day ensemble is featured on several of the tracks, its forthright, Italianate incisiveness and open vowels in marked contrast with the heady, homogenized and cultivated sound of British trebles. Including the choir is generous, but it's primarily Grigolo's sincerity and spiritual connection to the music that serve as a touching homage to the group that obviously played an important part in his artistic development.
The tasteful, string-dominated arrangements, primarily by Richard Whilds, aim for a gentle listening experience, and pieces by Schubert or Baroque composers blend smoothly with contemporary religious music by Domenico Bartolucci and Giovanni Maria Catena, priest/composers associated with the choir. There are popular antique melodies such as "Fermarono i cieli" and "Voglio chiamar Maria" alongside a solo version of Mozart's "Ave verum corpus" and an "Ave Maria" attributed to Giulio Caccini that sounds exactly like "All the Things You Are."
The ever-popular "Panis Angelicus," from César Franck's Messe à Trois Voix, features cello, harp and organ, and Grigolo's simple delivery highlights his clean, concentrated vocal line and personal warmth. The tenor responds earnestly and reverently to the Romantic lyricism of nineteenth-century Roman composer Gaetano Capocci ("Dolce cuor del mio Gesù" and a "Salve Regina") and brings a muted intimacy to the "Ingemisco" from Verdi's Messa da Requiem with more subtle colors and shadings than would be appropriate for a large-scale performance.
An Italian version of Schubert's "Ständchen" includes two verses penned by Grigolo himself, and he forgoes the Latin text of Schubert's "Ave Maria" (Ellens Gesang) favored by Roman Catholic brides for an Italian version. The finale, in which thirteen-year-old recording superstar Jackie Evancho joins the tenor for a scoopy, pop version of "O Holy Night," is the only miss on this most enjoyable disc.
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