Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Serate Musicali @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

16 April 2007

Rossini’s vocal and instrumental miniatures are often condensed and pithy little masterpieces.

Tuneful and emotionally pleasing they may be, but there is real compositional merit to be found, especially in the organic word setting and dynamic keyboard accompaniments.

There is, however, a world’s difference between the intimate buzz of Rossini’s Parisian dwellings (where the works were informally premiered) and the awkward atmosphere of a barely-half full Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The soloists tried their hardest in such an unforgiving atmosphere, and the personality on the platform allowed us to at least enjoy the music as it passed. Bruce Ford‘s tenor is admittedly but a shade of what it used to be. Gone is the effortless upper register and in its place stands a stretched tone, replete with unwanted vibrato, and one that would grate were it not so superbly deployed.

And this is where Ford revealed himself as a world class artist: in the expressive, lingering pianos, in the confident sweeps through registers and in the predictably enthralling stage presence. Just as well, all of this, for the hall’s acoustic is unkind to tenors and Ford’s dark, baritonal sound could be swallowed up.

Mezzo Stella Doufexis had no problems in this respect, and while her intonation was occasionally suspect, she held the hall suspended in the dramatic trio La regatta veneziana. It was the little touches in all three songs that provided most pleasure: the lustrous rolled Rs in the first, the breathless declamations in the second, the suggestive peals of coloratura in the third. And if occasionally Doufexis’ line was not completely secure, as in the Ave Maria, her expressive delivery was still fairly pleasurable.

And Miah Persson again confirmed herself as name to watch, with a performance of immense theatricality and a pure, effortlessly creamy tone embracing all that Rossini could muster. In the first song of the evening, La promessa, taken from the soires musicales, Persson sailed to the centre of every note with not a hint of struggle, swooping or caricature. And I can’t think of many other sopranos working today who put as much into the text of a song, with the baby’s babblings in La chanson du bb stupendously conveyed and the suggestive staccato sequences of La pastorella dell’Allpi a minor masterpiece of comic timing.

Yet even the Queen Elizabeth Hall seemed too large a venue for such conversational chamber music, and many of the brief ditties sailed by without announcing their presence or involving. It was only the responsive, transparent piano playing of Roger Vignoles that consistently excited: a situation hardly ideal in a vocal recital.

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