Just a few hours after a ‘Launch Lunch’ to announce the new season, those of us who can’t get enough of the Wigmore Hall were present for a recital which exemplifies at least part of what the place is all about – a young singer in the early stages of his career, yet one who never for a moment made you think of that old adage, ‘X made her Wigmore Hall debut. Why?’ This Rosenblatt recital was not the Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu’s debut, but it was the first time that many of the audience had heard this very promising, exceptionally confident singer who has already established himself on the operatic stage.
His programme was deftly planned and constructed, the progression from Arie Antiche through Mozart and on to Verdi, Gounod and Cilea obviously grounded in the great tradition of the recital, whilst providing a tour through the development of the aria and its relationship with the tenor voice. Gluck’s O del mio dolce ardor might have needed a little more agility with the coloratura, and there is a tendency to be strongest in forte, but these are fairly minor issues when set alongside Pirgu’s rounded tone, very musical phrasing and forthright projection. Scarlatti’s Già il sole dal Gange really brought out the sunshine in the voice, the rapid passages holding no terrors either for the singer or for Simon Lepper’s always-supportive accompanying.
The Mozart group revealed both strengths and small weaknesses. This is a voice which it’s quite hard to characterize; it has some of the confident, at times showy mastery of a Flórez, but there’s also an underlying baritonal richness in the Kaufmann style, whilst the overall general character tends more towards a Pavarotti-like sense of biting at the words – none of this implies anything imitative or derivative, just that the voice is versatile and at times can sound as though it has not yet quite settled. Il mio tesoro was characterized with a very strong emphasis on the drama around the aria – it is, after all, not a love song but a desperate plea to render help, and whilst some of the long lines may not have been ideally sweet in tone, the intensity was all there. An ambitious Fuor del mar ended the recital’s first half; Idomeneo’s music is not an easy ride for anyone, and that such a young artist is able to give so persuasive an account of it was impressive.
Questa o quella began the second part with just the right amount of swagger both in voice and person, and although Ah,la paterna mano might have lacked that last ounce of tenderness in Macduff’s sorrow at having left his wife and babes unprotected, the aria was sung with a strong dramatic pulse. As yet, Pirgu’s singing in French is not quite the equal of his Italian, and Gounod’s Ah! lève-toi soleil, impressive though the top note at the end certainly was, did not show him at his best – one of the encores, Pourquoi me réveiller was a better indication of what his French style may become.
Pirgu honoured his own country with two songs, both with texts from the national poet Naim Frashëri and both so beautiful that one wanted to hear them again at once. Limoz Disdari’s Fjalët e Qiririti (The words of the candle) also featured violin accompaniment from the composer’s daughter, Alda, who had earlier given a mellifluous account of a movement from Beethoven’s Spring Sonata. The recital ended with Cilea’s È la solita storia del pastore which was the ideal vehicle to display Pirgu’s rich tone and apt dramatic sense as well as Simon Lepper’s elegant playing. This recital faced strong competition for attention from the BPO under Rattle at the Barbican, but those who opted for it will surely not have felt disadvantaged.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.