Not the best Villazon offering - I have just about all his recordings - but still well arranged, sung with fine intonation and obvious enthusiasm. If you are a Villazon fan, a good recording and well worth a listen.
The trials of Rolando Villazón are well documented; he burst onto the operatic scene in the early years of the new millennium, made three best-selling operatic recital albums between 2003 and 2005, sang worldwide then in 2007 suffered catastrophic vocal damage requiring surgery to remove a cyst in his vocal cords which necessitated a two year rest from the stage. He then worked very hard to retrain his voice, relaunch his career and make a comeback mostly as a Mozart tenor, thereby avoiding the kind of strain that the biggest Verdi roles place on a voice.
He is a most musical performer with a distinctive, slightly throaty timbre, and is recognisably the same singer who so impressed us twelve years ago. However, comparison with that first recital reveals that his voice, while still beautiful, is a somewhat “low-fat” version of its original self. His singing is audibly more refined, more careful and more restrained, although certainly not without passion; presumably this is a good thing considering the problems his previously unstinting commitment caused and the fact that he is now singing more intelligently and more within himself, but one cannot help but notice an element of diminishment in its essential sound.
The sixteen songs here, four from each of four composers, were written for piano accompaniment but have been newly arranged for orchestral arrangement. That orchestration is imaginative but unobtrusive, tasteful and apt; some of the repertoire has been previously recorded in 1973 on a concert recital album by Pavarotti for Decca, in considerably soupier orchestral arrangements by Gamley. Pavarotti remains the more refined and elegant artist but the plangency and expressiveness of Villazón’s tones are eminently suitable to the music and he brings real imagination to their delivery.
The Bellini songs are as graceful as one would expect from a composer memorably described by Heine as "a sigh in dancing pumps and silk stockings" but the fourth, “Torna, vezzosa Fillide” is more substantial, episodic and almost operatic in scale, an impression cemented by the concluding storm section. Villazón’s climactic top A is a tad unsteady, and the same top note in Rossini’s “La danza” sounds laboured, but he displays a ringing top B in the latter’s “La lontananza”, suggesting that his recovery is mostly successful. He transposes the “Malinconia, ninfa gentile” down a tone to B compared with Pavarotti’s C major, presumably playing safe.
The Donizetti songs are somewhat conventional and rather maudlin but given the most persuasive advocacy, whereas the Rossini songs are irrepressibly charming and cheerful even when treating of melancholy topics. Verdi was not perhaps strictly speaking in the same category as the other three composers of Romantic songs but he was their inheritor and his cantilena melodies in familiar 6/8 triple time add a welcome dash of humanistic drama to the mix; however, their operatic quality, emphasised by the orchestration, also emphasises the loss of resonance in Villazón’s tenor. The contribution by Cecilia Bartoli to the last Rossini duet in French, “Les amants de Seville”, is welcome but the audibility of her intake of breath betrays just how closely her voice had to be recorded to match, and avoid being swamped by, the tenor even in this more cautious phase of his vocal estate.
[This review also posted on the MusicWeb International website]