Puccini canti 900349

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
I Canti – Orchestral Songs & Works
Orchestral Songs (orchestrated by Johannes X. Schachtner)
Preludio sinfonico (arr. Lucas Drew for string orchestra)
Capriccio sinfonico (arr. Lucas Drew for string orchestra)
Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) (arr. Lucas Drew for string orchestra)
Charles Castronovo (tenor)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ivan Repušić
rec. 2023, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
No sung texts
BR Klassik 900349 [68]

Beautifully recorded, well sung and attractively presented with notes in German and English and whimsical, atmospheric photographs of tenor Charles Castronovo made up, costumed and posing as Puccini, this enterprising issue of Puccini’s songs is clearly preferable to Angela Gheorghiu’s simultaneous issue (release date 26 January 2024) of virtually the same programme on the Signum label. Unfortunately, her voice has now loosened alarmingly and lost its tonal lustre; furthermore her survey has a playing time of only fifty minutes as no orchestral bonuses are offered, whereas here we have three favourites. However, it must be said that despite his pleasingly dark, even baritonal, timbre, capable of sounding out with considerable power, some loosening is detectable in Castronovo’s vibrato, too and occasionally he turns shouty. He has been singing professionally for a quarter of a century and I recall enjoying hearing him live at Covent Garden. He has never quite attained superstar level and that may be because his voice lacks variety of colours and is a tad effortful in production. This results in many of the songs here sounding very similar – which may also be because they are not all top-drawer Puccini, even though they are very disparate in content and in the occasion of their composition. Another gripe proceeds from the lack of texts; I simply cannot conceive of why they are omitted from the booklet, as that is an essential component of appreciating songs. A final moan: why do BR Klassik persist in presenting their CDs in a redundant cardboard slipcase and plastic wrapping in these days of supposed environmental conscientiousness?

It is fun, hwever, to spot where elements of these songs, written in his youth, were recycled in Puccini’s subsequent operas; hence we hear themes recycled in Le Villi, Edgar, Manon Lescaut, Gianni Schicchi, La bohème, La rondine et al. They have been skilfully orchestrated by Johnannes X. Schachtner and in some cases slightly enhanced; hence, he has, for example, taken the very pardonable “liberty of adding a repeat to the delightful lullaby Sogno d’or, also including an extension with a small canonic extension”. My favourites are the two songs reworked for the opera I consider to be Puccini’s most undervalued: La rondine; they are the aforementioned Sogno d’or and Morire, which were respectively transformed into the famous Brindisi quartet, “Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso” and Ruggero’s aria “Parigi è la città”. Having said that, I would, in general, still prefer to listen to the eventual final products than these preparatory incarnations of some famous tunes and in truth derive greater pleasure from the three orchestral items.

These have more often been recorded than the songs and are in many ways more recognisably by the composer of the operas which made him famous and they are lovingly conducted and seductively played here by a first-rate orchestra. The sound of the Preludio sinfonico and Crisantemi is clearer, richer and more immediate than the other versions I have by Pappano and the LSO. To my ears, they are more feelingly played, too – but in fact my favourite recording of the latter is by the Helsinki Strings on the budget Apex label. I was not very familiar with the Capriccio sinfonico, which is played here with sensitivity and passion – but when we get the central passage used note for note as the introduction to La bohème, every seasoned opera-lover will have difficulty restraining him or herself from launching into Marcello’s “Questo mar rosso mi ammollisce e assidera”. It is an entertaining, highly varied piece which packs a lot of drama and melody into a few brief minutes and finishes in first grandiloquent then romantically expansive vein.

Ralph Moore

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson (January 2024) ~ Göran Forsling (February 2024)

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