Di Stefano sings Neopolitan Songs
Open-minded, even indulgent, where Monteverdi and Purcell are concerned, I am a stickler for authenticity in Tosti and De Curtis. Shimmering strings and Straussian brass we do not want. Crafty counterpoint is out! And hands off those harmonies!
A great many – in fact almost all – of the arrangements used in these recordings leave a nasty taste in the mouth: a kind of cheap luxury about them, the ballroom of some glossy hotel, a takeover of Naples by Hollywood. The perpetrators are not named, but the first are worst, and a few of the later ones, using mandolins and a chorus with tremulous sopranos, are just about tolerable.
Then there is the tenor, the more or less sine qua non. Giuseppe di Stefano is, as Peter Hutchinson’s thoughtful booklet-notes proclaim, a singer with a flair for communication: if you don’t understand the words he is singing, something in his style insists that you look them up, that it’s worth finding out about rather than just letting it waft around vaguely as a bit of Mediterranean ‘atmosphere’. He is also generous with his magnificent voice – some might say too generous, but these are not songs for half-measures or for prudently covered vowels and top-notes. There is a kind of refinement proper to them (hear recordings of Fernando de Lucia and Mattia Battistini) of which he has little more than an inkling (as in Tosti’s Malia); even with the later generation in mind his style lacks the imaginative quality that made theirs so personal and endearing (compare him with Gigli in Santa Lucia lontana, with Pertile in Mattinata or with Schipa in
These recordings come from early LPs and do not include the 78s; those, or a straight reissue of EMI’s album, “The Young di Stefano”, would be welcome. I find the 1953 recordings harsh, and in spite of the fresher condition of the voice its effect is less appealing, as reproduced here, than in the latest of the sessions, July 1961. If one of the discs has to be taken, the other left, then I would recommend the second.'