Poème d’un jour: Songs by Hahn, Fauré, Obradors, Turina and de Falla; Massenet – Manon (arias); Ailyn Pérez, Iain Burnside (Rosenblatt Recitals/ Opus Arte OA CD9013 D, 68 minutes)
Every so often, a singer comes along who completely bowls you over. When the Royal Opera launched a marathon run of La traviata last season, spanning several months, three casts and a multitude of critical yawns, I was urgently advised to catch Ailyn Pérez, whose Violetta was giving certain friends the vapours. I caught her final scheduled appearance and she was, indeed, everything that had been promised and more – the most touching, vulnerable Violetta since Ileana Cotrubas. The diminutive Hispanic-Amercian soprano saved the day again two months later when she stepped in for an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti to sing a Rosenblatt Recital at St John’s Smith Square. When word got out, I was one of several Opera Britannia critics who nabbed a last minute ticket, only to have our knuckles gently rapped by our editor afterwards for failing to request a press ticket and pen a subsequent review. Now is the opportune moment to remedy this situation, if for another organ, with this delightful disc which includes several of the French and Spanish songs from her programme (in studio recordings from 2010) and two Manon arias actually taken from the recital itself.
The singer most frequently brought to mind, both during the recital and listening to the disc, is Victoria de los Angeles, partly because of the programme, but also the vocal qualities on display: the delicacy, lightness and timbre of her soprano, the exquisite way she can float a vocal line and particularly the coquettish charm of her Manon, which reveals a winning smile in her voice. In these Manon excerpts, the microphones pick up every rustle of the audience (not guilty!) but it’s worth it for these two numbers which readily capture the way Pérez communicates character, especially in “Je suis encore tout étourdie”. (She performs Manon, as well as Liù and Violetta at Covent Garden next season.)
Six songs by Venezuelan-born Reynaldo Hahn – each one a perfectly-polished gem – are presented in two sets of three. Pérez spins legato seamlessly in À Chloris and conveys a sense of wonder in L’Heure exquise. Occasionally, top notes are a little harshly caught by the microphone – a little more distance wouldn’t have gone amiss – but the bittersweet sense of longing and loss in L’Énamourée is beautifully captured, tenderly accompanied by Iain Burnside.
Fauré’s Schumannesque Poème d’un jour sets three texts by Charles Grandmougrin, depicting the brief cycle of a relationship – from the rapt wonder of Rencontre to Toujours then the inevitable Adieu – without sugaring the emotions. Pérez and Burnside respond appropriately, reining in any overt emotion.
Pérez is completely at home in the Spanish songs in her recital, applying lush, chocolate tones to the material. Catalan composer Fernando Obradors drew on Spanish writers and folk texts in his Canciones clásicas españolas, given here complete. The solo lines of La mia sola, Laureola are hauntingly sung, while Al amor and Chiquitita la novia display flamboyant Spanish passions. Songs such as ¿Corazón, por qué pasáis and El majo celoso allow Burnside to reveal his flair for Spanish rhythms. He really is the Gerald Moore de nos jours, a sensitive accompanist, yet with tremendous feeling for colour. The rippling arpeggios and long vocal phrases of Del cabello más sutil (a favourite Montserrat Caballé encore) are utterly winning, especially the mesmeric vocalise section.
The Poema en forma de canciones by Joaquín Turina, prefaced by a fiery piano solo, are passionately sung, as are Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas. Pérez draws on a darker, more earthy sound than de los Angeles in these songs, every inch the passionate gypsy in the wilder songs such as the Seguidilla murciana, while the fragility of Asturiana or the hushed lullaby Nana is deeply moving. A pulsating, uninhibited Polo closes the cycle in fine Spanish style.
Victoria de los Angeles; Gonzalo Soriano (EMI, 2 discs) 2375952 (1961)
Victoria de los Angeles; Gerald Moore (EMI) CDH 7-64028-2 (1951)
Victoria de los Angeles; Orchestre du Theatre National de l’Opera-Comique / Pierre Monteux (Naxos Historical, 3 discs) 8111268-70 (1955)
This review originally appeared in International Record Review in 2013.