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Joyce DiDonato/Julius Drake

BBC Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall 16 January 2006

Rossini – La regata veneziana

Head – Songs of Venice

Faure – Cinq melodies de Venise Op 58

Hahn – Venezia: chansons en dialecte venetien

Radio 3 presenter Stephanie Hughes began with a New Year greeting, and there was indeed a festive buzz in the Wigmore Hall, packed to its seams with an expectant audience and joined no doubt by many thousands more listening on radio or via the internet. No surprise that the pleasures of Venice should prove a powerful lure on a wet January afternoon, but it was the prospect of being transported there by the voice of Joyce DiDonato that provided the real excitement.

She has been delighting Covent Garden audiences with her Rosina during recent weeks, and Rossini was her opening choice. La regatta veneziana is a late piece, intended for private performance within the composer's circle of friends, a 3-song miniature dramatisation of a gondola race seen through the eyes of Anzoleta. She encourages her gondolier lover before the race with a mock heroic aria, follows with a frenzied commentary on the race itself and rounds off with a gleeful celebration and elated cry of ti puo star. Not only did we get all the virtuoso trimmings, but also a full range of expressions and gestures aptly capturing the parody of the piece.

Michael Head's Songs of Ve nice don't turn up too often in recitals. They were written in the last year of the composer's life and are set to three poems by Nancy Bush, entitled The Gondolier, St Mark's Square and Rain Storm. At first glance they are straightforward word paintings, but Head has converted them into rather attractive musical vignettes: the gondolier calls out “Ohe, Ohe, Ohe” which is echoed back very neatly, and DiDonato made much of the “shower of pigeons which arch over the rooftops”, projecting their imagined flight up into the arched roof of Wigmore Hall.

Back to more familiar ground with Faure's Cinq melodies de Venise which are the musical equivalent of the holiday postcards written after the traveller has returned home. Nonetheless there is a luminous quality to the music highly evocative of the city, and they were delivered with languorous perfection.

Reynaldo Hahn's six Venezia pieces completed the advertised programme. Their jaunty tone suits the slightly guttural nature of the Veneto dialect and whilst Joyce DiDonato did not miss a single snappy consonant, Julian Drake's piano sent the water rippling by with a sparkle. The long flowing lines of the final poem ended in a rich crescendo and resounding applause.

There were further treats in store for the audience in the hall, contrasting coloratura arias by Handel and Rossini, tossed out with bravura and breathtaking virtuosity.

A splendid concert and one that showed off every facet of this delightful singer's voice. The audience was asked to disperse quickly before a ‘patching' session - as well as the Radio 3 broadcast, the recital was destined for future release on the admirable “Wigmore Hall Live” series. Certainly a CD I shan't want to miss.

Serena Fenwick

Wigmore Hall Live Wigmore Live Songs


A journey through Venice

Songs by Faure, Hahn and Head

Arias by Rossini and Handel

Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) Julius Drake (piano)
Recorded live at Wigmore Hall, 26 January 2006

[66.40 mins]

For full detailed track lists click on the link at the top


It's only a relatively short time since I was fortunate to be present at this recital www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/DiDonato.htm so I am doubly pleased to be able to re-live the occasion through the medium of this new CD which comes fully up to expectations..


Here we have a singer and pianist very much on the top of their form and relishing the occasion. The recording does well in capturing the atmosphere of the occasion, and in particular the suspense and drama of the gondola race that is evoked in Rossini's Le regatta veneziana.


The songs by Head and Faure portray more tranquil aspects of La Serenissima, with the piano contributing on equal terms with the singer, but the pace quickens for Hahn's lively group of Venezia songs, emphasised by the rasping tone of the local dialect.


The concert had been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as one of their “Lunchtime recitals”, and time constraints had excluded the two substantial encore items much appreciated by the audience in the hall. They are, however, included on the CD: a beautifully reflective Cara speme from Handel's Giulio Cesare, followed by the virtuoso coloratura of Nacque all'affanno from Rossini's La Cenerentola – a worthy end to a delightful performance.


Serena Fenwick