Anna Leese and Stephen de Pledge perform Italian Love Songs by Bellini, Puccini, Donizetti and Tosti. These elegant pieces for solo voice, some well known, others less so, connect directly with a rich and substantial body of Italian art songs, romanze and liriche da camera, composed over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Bellini’s demanding and virtuosic operatic writing is familiar, but his songs test the fundamental precepts of bel canto technique (unbroken legato singing, subtle dynamic shading and the singer’s ability to articulate words with crystal clarity) and the haunting beauty of his Tre ariette arises from blending this with folk-song elements, gleaned from his life in Catania on Sicily’s east coast.
Puccini created songs at various points in his life, from his youth in Lucca and student years in Milan to occasional pieces conceived long after his operas had achieved global fame. Many of his romanze and liriche da camera first appeared in print in magazines devoted to the cultivation of the arts or designed to serve the buoyant market for domestic music- making.
In a similar vein, Donizetti’s prolific output of songs with piano accompaniment includes many works evocative of the effortless style of Italian folk music and canzoni popolari.
Tosti, born in Ortona where he received most of his music education, struggled to make a living as a composer in his early years. Feted in London when he arrived there in 1875, he became a huge success and his great catalogue of expressive songs, characterized by melody, remain popular and have been recorded by the world’s greatest singers.
New Zealand Soprano Anna Leese is a graduate of the University of Otago, the Royal College of Music and the Benjamin Britten International Opera School. Her many awards include the 2005 Richard Tauber Prize and she was recently named as an Arts Foundation New Generation Artist in New Zealand. Her roles for 2012/13 include Leila in Pearlfishers for Opera Holland Park (June), Majenka (The Bartered Bride) and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) (August) for the New Zealand Opera, and concerts with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. As part of the acclaimed Prince Consort she will perform at Wigmore Hall in three concerts during 2013 (February, April, July), as part of their American Song Series.
New Zealand pianist Stephen De Pledge maintains a diverse and wide-ranging performing schedule, as soloist, chamber musician and song accompanist. He has already recorded a solo recital disc for Champs Hill Records.
The bonus track on the album is by Savioni, who lived 1608-1685, and is recorded with tenor Thorsten Büttner