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A new solo album from Polish tenor Piotr Beczala sees him breaking new ground in his repertoire. It’s all very charming and lovely, but misses the passion and the personality of the meatier roles that feature in this recording Piotr Beczala has developed a great career with astuteness. He sings within his means, generally using the interest rather than the capital, and takes on new roles with confidence in his abilities. His assumption of Lohengrin surprised some, but people forget that neither Faust nor Werther is a walk in the park vocally – but then as long ago as 1900 the critic W J Henderson criticised another Polish tenor, the legendary Jean de Reske, famous for both his French and Wagnerian roles, for ‘singing legato all the time’ causing him ‘to fall below the possible measure of eloquence’. Some people are never satisfied.

It is, however, a criticism that could be made of Beczala’s new CD, Vincerò! in which he shows that he is edging his career in a new direction, giving us tasters of verismo roles that he hints are possibly entering his repertoire. Indeed, Calaf in Turandot is already promised in a couple of years’ time. Beczala’s trademark liquidity of tone is undoubted, as is its intrinsic beauty. He sings through the passaggio as though it doesn’t exist, every note is well- placed and he has a clarion top – his high B-flat is particularly thrilling, and makes great effect in his ‘Improvviso’ from Andrea Chénier. What’s not to like?

It is all just a bit too charming, too easy. There is a distinct lack of personality in some of his assumptions. I know – if I were at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes I would probably complain for lack of salt or lemon. But given the abundance of good qualities there is a tendency to blandness and I seek something with more nuance. I will focus on one phrase for illustration, from one of the more famous arias on offer: Cavaradossi’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Act III of Tosca. Coming at a moment of resignation and drenched with sadness, Cavaradossi sings the phrase ‘O! dolci baci, o languide carezze’ (oh, sweet kisses and languorous caresses), and my aural memory dictates that it should be sung sweetly, mezza voce, and that the deliciousness of the phrase, itself languorous, should convey both a glance back at happier times and an intense longing for a life about to be cut short. But, not trusting to memory alone, which can be horribly faulty, I listened to many performances of the aria to confirm or discredit my assumption. I started with contemporary tenors: Jonas Kaufmann almost whispers the phrase, as is his wont, and Roberto Alagna brings the sound down at the climax. Looking further back, Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti all mark the point, and powerhouse Franco Corelli manages to hone his voice down as he ascends – and so it goes: I went further and further back – Björling, Di Stefano, Gigli, Pertile, Fleta, Lázaro, ending with Caruso, and every one marks the moment by reducing volume, colouring the voice, or both. Beczala skates over it without doing much – I am not suggesting he should milk it for the sake of it, or just follow what everybody else has done, but it is a strangely faceless reading in the face of past tradition and current comparison. Even more curious as he has performed Cavaradossi onstage, which usually gives an artist more insight into a character and adds depth.

Chénier sits well in his voice as does des Grieux (Manon Lescaut). Jack Rance (La fanciulla) is perhaps too low, and Canio (Pagliacci) has him at full throttle sounding a little uncomfortable with sustaining the tessitura. It would maybe have been interesting to hear Beczala offer something of some rarity – the disc is strewn with tenor warhorses, and he misses some tricks – ‘È la solita storia’ from Cilea’s L’arlesiana could have been a good choice to display his vocal control. Marco Boemi’s conducting has the happy ability to illuminate oft-hidden detail without over-emphasising it, and he supports Beczala well. An enjoyable album in many ways – it is always a pleasure to hear a healthy voice in its prime – but it could have been far more interesting.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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