Joyce DiDonato / David Zobel - Wigmore Hall, 26 January 2010
It's not often that Rossini trumps Beethoven. But the best-known piece on this programme, Rossini's haunting Willow Song from Otello, accompanied by the ravishing harp of Lucy Wakeford, touched the heart in a way Beethoven's neatly Mozartian and little-heard early song-studies couldn't.
Delightful though Joyce DiDonato's baroque and bel canto favourites are, there's a limit to the number of times anyone wants to hear the same songs yet again in recital. But Joyce's visits to London have become so frequent it's not surprising she's running short of fresh material. This recital, billed 'Three Centuries of Amore', delved deep into the Italian song book to dust off some rarely heard songs and a few more familiar ones. All, even the most obscure, were presented from memory with a studied ease that suggested Joyce had worked long and hard to pull the programme into shape. "That's OK, I'm excited to be here too!" she kindly offered a lone applauder after her first song, turning a potential irritant into a seal of her long-standing rapport with the Wigmore audience.
Though Joyce lavished equal care and commitment on every song, there was little in the rest of the material to suggest its obscurity was undeserved. The arie antiche of Durante, Caccini, Rossi, et al are no doubt better known to voice students than audiences and long may it remain so. Joyce's immaculate technique, intelligent phrasing and natural warmth gave them every chance, but it was all as wasted as singing lessons on Jimmy Osmond. They didn't seem to draw the best from her voice, either. Perhaps it was just an extended warming-up issue, but initially her usually liquid tone was unpleasantly harsh-edged, slow to respond and occasionally short-breathed. Rossini obviously weaved some kind of spell and she finished the first half in easy, honeyed style.
The second half though was technically flawless. Swapping the crystal-trimmed sky blue Grecian gown of the first half (above) for strapless teal and black taffeta (below), Joyce tackled the limp poetry and Puccini-esque pomp of four songs by the notorious Fascist apologist Francesco Santoliquido with a conviction that the commonplace sentiments and trivial writing didn't deserve. The Ballatella of Jewish-Italian Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco provided a political counterbalance at least, but along with a handful of other forgettable songs from composers of a similar vintage, failed to raise the musical standards much.
The cheese course was perhaps the most satisfying, with Buzzi-Peccia's Lolita (or Pavarotti's Lolita as I prefer to think of it) kicking off an exotic selection that included a French serenade from Leoncavallo and a Canto arabo by Barbara Giuranna. Many singers get develop an embarrassing stiff upper lip when Latin passion is called for, but not the uninhibited Joyce. Her rhythmic precision and sensitively-wielded dynamic shading allows her to approach the material with the playfulness it requires. David Zobel's generously understated accompaniment here as throughout the evening provided a sturdy backbone.
The best, as so often, came with the encores. Voi che sapete, for which Joyce donned a "necessary" bow tie and a rondo from La donna del lago finally provided Joyce with some clearly-drawn musical characterisation on which to work her magic.
Listen to Joyce discuss the music with Radio 3's In Tune (until Monday).
Durante Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile Pergolesi Se tu m'ami Caccini Amarilli mia bella Rossi Mio ben, teco il tormento Paisiello Nel cor piu non mi sento Rontani Or ch'io non sequo più Beethoven Hoffnung Op. 82 No. 1, Liebes-Klage Op. 82 No. 2, L’amante impatiente Op. 82 No. 3, L’amante impatiente Op. 82 No. 4, La partenza WoO124 Rossini Willow Song from 'Otello' Santoliquido L'assiolo canta, Alba di luna sul bosco, Tristezza crepuscolare, L'incontro Pizzetti Ocsuro è il ciel Toselli Serentata Donaudy O del mio amato bene Castelnuovo-Tedesco La Pastorella Ballatella Buzzi-Peccia Lolita, Serenata Spagnola Leoncavallo Serenata Francese Giuranna Canto Arabo Di Chiara La Spagnola Encores: Rossini Giusto cielo from 'Maometto Secondo' Mozart Voi che sapete from 'Le Nozze di Figaro' Rossini Tanti affetti from 'La donna del lago'