...arresting, intimate and evocative in equal measure.
Charlotte Gardner 2008
Between the ages of 19 and 37, Giacomo Rossini wrote 40 operas. He then turned his back on the genre for the rest of his life. Thankfully for us, he didn't spurn vocal music per se; in addition to his Stabat Mater and Petite Messe Solennelle, he composed three collections of songs, Soirées Musicales, Péchés De Vieillesse and La Regatta Veneziana, many of which were performed at the Parisian salon evenings he hosted with his wife. This selection of them for Hyperion is arresting, intimate and evocative in equal measure.
Soirées Musicales are the first set and, whilst Rossini may have been sick to the back teeth of the stage, these elegant songs capitalise on his dramatic talent, the writing at times sounding more than a little reminiscent of his operatic work. Péchés De Vieillesse or Sins Of Old Age were composed 20 years later, by which time Rossini's salons were famous, attended by the likes of Boito, Liszt and Verdi. Despite the jollity of the evenings, the songs themselves are undeniably the work of an older man, with the gloomy topics of death and exile pushing in alongside the declarations of love.
There isn't a low point on the entire disc. Roger Vignoles plays with all his characteristic intelligence and subtlety. Miah Persson is enchanting in the opening La Promessa, and playfully dazzling in La Pastorella Dell'Alpi. Stella Doufexis' pure, rich voice gives perfect expression to L’orpheline Du Tyrol, and the two women's voices meld together magically when paired in duets such as La Pesca. Meanwhile, Bruce Ford is technically brilliant and dramatically engaging in the drinking song, L'orgia, and smoothly leads the mood from light to darkness with L'esule, the first of the Péchés De Vieillesse.
If Rossini's songs are the cake and the performers the icing, the recording itself is the unexpected cherry on top. The acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk immediately transports you to the intimate space of Rossini's salon, candles flickering, guests listening intently, adding a further dimension to this already wonderful disc.