V1364. CESARE VALLETTI, w.Leo Taubman (Pf.): New York Town Hall Recitals, 1959 & 1960, plus RCA’s studio recording The Art of Song. (England) 2-Testament SBT2 1413. - 749677141325
“Cesare Valletti was the most elegant and versatile tenore di grazia of his time; Italy has produced nothing like him since his short career ended. He started in the late ‘40s, came to the Met in 1953, and left in 1960 after a dispute with Rudolf Bing….[he] refused all offers to come back to the Met….Valletti sings fluently in Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English. He was regarded an exemplary French stylist in his time, but his perfect English is even more surprising.”
- Ralph V. Lucano, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2008
"The leading operatic tenore di grazia of the 1950's and 60's, Cesare Valletti was also an incomparable interpreter of songs. And not just the limiting light material Italian opera singers of his generation usually programmed on those rare occasions when they did appear on the recital stage. Valletti sang it all – German Lied, French mélodie, and Italian canzone, as well as songs by Spanish, English, Russian, Scandinavian and American composers. Every facet of his extensive song repertoire is represented on these two CDs. A few years after his Metropolitan Opera début in 1953, Valletti followed up his successes on the operatic stage with a series of concerts in New York’s Town Hall, at that time the most distinguished venue in the city for serious recitalists, and astonished New York music critics could scarcely believe their ears. Here was an Italian tenor renowned for his elegant Don Ottavio, Count Almaviva, and many other heroes from the Mozart-Rossini-Donizetti- Bellini repertoire, yet one who also sang the entire spectrum of the song literature as if to the manner born. The Town Hall recitals of 1959 and 1960 were recorded by RCA, which issued most of the two programmes on a pair of LPs. The discs were immediately seized upon as collectors’ items, becoming even more treasured and eagerly sought for when they went out of print. Now at last, every facet of Valletti's song repertoire is recaptured on these two CDs, which also include his 1958 studio album, 'The Art of Song'. What first attracted listeners to Valletti’s singing was the distinctive and attractive texture of the voice itself. Its lean, perfectly focused timbre may lack the honeyed sweetness of, say, Tito Schipa or Ferruccio Tagliavini, two of Valletti’s most distinguished predecessors in his vocal category, and the tone could thin out in the very top register when put under pressure, but there are plenty of vocal virtues to admire here: the clean attack, pure vowel sounds, a purling legato, seamless register alignment, fabulous diction, and a pianissimo without resort to falsetto. Valletti also possessed an easy agility available to few other Italian tenors who sang the bel canto repertoire in those days, as well as an unerring ear that could pitch the notes of a tricky Hugo Wolf song with absolute precision. His voice had an appealingly plangent tang that gave his sound its individuality, along with a touch of poignant vulnerability that graced both his song interpretations and the portrayals of the heartsick young operatic heroes that were his speciality. All these good things are enhanced by Valletti’s patrician musicianship and impeccable taste, energised by an extraordinarily expressive vitality, masterly control of every musical situation, and a lively engagement with the composer that animates every measure. The 1959 recital opens with a short cantata by the seventeenth-century composer Bernardo Pasquini, a rueful observation on the passage of time which Valletti addresses with a disarming directness and clarity of line that today’s period singers could study with profit. The Mozart concert aria that follows was written for Valentin Adamberger, the first Belmonte in DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL, and its florid demands must have taxed even that singer’s impressive technique. 'Valletti opened his voice as gradually as a bud to blossom', wrote the critic Irving Kolodin in his admiring commentary on the Mozart aria, 'with a sunburst of colorful effects…' True enough – a dazzling performance that makes one regret that Valletti never attempted the role of Belmonte, which would surely have been more than a worthy companion to his classic interpretation of Mozart’s Don Ottavio. Another critic in the audience at Town Hall that evening was Harold C. Schonberg, who pronounced the tenor’s rendering of three songs from Berlioz's LES NUITS d’ÉTÉ 'enchanting. He sang… with the romantic ardor that the music demands, with exquisite delicacy and a floating lyric line'. The tempos for 'Villanelle' and 'L’île inconnue' may now seem a trifle rushed to our ears perhaps, but the languid 'Sur les lagunes' could not be more warmly phrased, ending with a deliciously modulated 'ah' that seems to vanish magically in the darkness. Valletti’s ardent response to the Wolf songs arises from exactly the same deep poetic impulse that inspired the music, while the three Spanish selections are inflected to capture all the music’s sensuous allure. The two encores were probably included to satisfy members of the audience who might have been disappointed not to hear the Met’s new tenor star sing a bit of opera. Actually neither Boito’s Faust nor Cilea’s Federico figured in Valletti’s active operatic repertoire, but these two elegantly poised arias are hardly out of place in this programme, and the tenor’s impassioned singing of Federico’s Lament predictably brings down the house. A year later, on 28 October, 1960, Valletti was back in Town Hall, and this time he devoted the first half of his programme to the Italian ‘arie antiche’ that traditionally opened virtually every recital in those days. The tenor chose eight classics of the genre including two songs by Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925), a composer who consciously couched his artfully devised pastiches in the ‘stile antico’. Valletti treats each song with beguiling simplicity, keeping his voice smooth as silk yet still imparting the full character of each song’s delicate sentiments. The ‘antique flavour’ is carried over into the folk-like settings of Roger Quilter and Norman Dello Joio to texts by Shakespeare, Jonson, and Herrick. In addition to his two Town Hall recitals, Valletti recorded three song albums for RCA in their New York studios and the earliest one, from June of 1958, is included here. Once again the tenor leads off with a generous selection of ‘arie antiche’, and they prove to be just as captivating and graciously sung as those heard on his Town Hall recital of two years later. More intriguing are the familiar Lieder by Schubert and Schumann, three apiece. It is not just the sunny, open, quintessentially Italianate nature of this voice as it caresses the vocal lines in near perfect German that instantly catches the ear, but the tonal purity, aristocratic phrasing, warmth of spirit and sheer spontaneity of expression. It’s unlikely that ears trained to appreciate Lieder as sung by any number of great German singers who specialised in this repertoire would mistake the nationality of this voice. But even the sternest purist could not fail to be moved and impressed by the quick emotional response and fresh interpretative spirit that Valletti brings to these songs. Perhaps the most treasurable jewel in this recital is 'I pastori' by Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) – who, incidentally, was the grandfather of Valletti’s wife – that tells of a shepherd from Abruzzi longing for his mountains. Pizzetti’s fragrant setting of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s poem is a gorgeous example of that under-appreciated composer’s lyrical declamatory style, and Valletti’s liquid, exquisitely inflected rendition is heartbreaking."
- Peter G. Davis, Liner notes
“Cesare Valletti…was a phenomenon among Italian tenors, an opera singer who was also a stylish recitalist with a large, well studied repertoire of songs as is shown very convincingly in two New York recitals and a separate programme, recorded for RCA in 1958, called ‘The Art of Song’….Valletti was a pupil of Tito Schipa but has more affinity with Schipa’s contemporary Dino Borgioli.”
- John Steane, GRAMOPHONE, June, 2008
"Although Valletti was a student of Tito Schipa (from whom he undoubtedly learnt some of the graces of production and interpretation), he was in some aspects a counterpart to his coach. Valletti’s was a light but flexible tenor voice of Italianate lyricism and a rare beauty of tone. His timbre was not as ‘sweet’ as that of Tito Schipa, Ferruccio Tagliavini or Beniamino Gigli, but he was the most accomplished technician of them all."
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile