Vittorio Grigolo: Ave Maria (CD review)

Vittorio Grigolo, tenor; Fabio Cerroni, Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta. Sony 88883786372.

Another relatively young Italian operatic tenor I’ve never heard of. That’s not saying much, though, because I know little about the current state of Italian opera. In any case, Ave Maria is Vittorio Grigolo’s fourth solo album, most of them devoted to pop and pop-opera tunes rather than full-length operas. No matter; audiences seem to love him.

Grigolo grew up in Rome and was singing by the time he was four. He was nine when he started singing his own version of "Ave Maria," at which point his father had him audition for the Sistine Chapel Choir. There, Gigolo become a soloist with the choir, also studying for several years at the Chapel’s Schola Puerorum. By his early teens he was singing at Rome's opera house; and at eighteen he joined the Vienna Opera Company, at age twenty-three becoming the youngest man to perform in Milan's La Scala.

Today, he’s in his mid thirties and a heartthrob the world over. Or so people tell me. He devotes the current album to various renditions of the “Hail Mary” theme: four “Ave Maria’s” and an assortment of other Mary and New Testament tributes: “Maria, che dolce nome,” “Panis angelicus,” “O celeste verginella,” etc. Grigolo tells us, “I didn’t want to make an album of sacred pieces just because that’s what everyone in the classical world does. I want to let people know where I come from and to share something of my history with them--and to share some music which many people will never have heard before.” Fair enough.

But how does he fare in this material, especially compared to the numerous other tenors who have recorded it? That depends. He certainly has a fine voice, even though he is not so thrilling, so robust, so smooth, nor so dependable as others in the field. He also has a most-expressive voice, which might annoy some listeners, since he doesn’t shy away from sometimes using it in a most-theatrical manner, the inflections wide, the dynamic contrasts sometimes exaggerated, and the tremolo often evident. While Grigolo’s style may appeal to a broad audience and endear him to them, judging from what I listened to here it may just as soon turn off some dedicated opera fans who would rather he not be quite so obviously sentimental and flamboyant.

I might add, too, that the orchestra that accompanies him on most of the songs, the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta, sounds somewhat small and shallow. In the final number, however, the City of Prague Orchestra plays behind him, and it sounds fuller, richer, and more impressive. Still, the smaller Sinfonietta does provide a sweetly transparent sound.

Anyway, Grigolo begins the program with Padre Giovanni Maria Catena’s “Ave Maria” on which Grigolo's voice soars majestically, and one can almost feel that he's holding back his true power most of the time in order to communicate a more intimate tone. It's not bad.

On the next selection, "Fermarono i cieli," he likewise keeps his voice in check so as not to upstage the children's choir singing behind him. It's a lovely rendering of the tune, with Grigolo only occasionally bursting forth full power, which can be a tad disconcerting but no doubt exciting.

And so it goes. It isn't until the third and fourth numbers, Campetti's "Maria, che dolce nome" and Franck's "Panis angelicus," that Grigolo lets his voice soar, and these songs come across with great force and conviction. From this point on, it's pretty much Grigolo letting loose the full power and scope of his voice in dynamic contrasts that can't help make an impression for good or bad, depending on your attitude toward how a singer should handle these items.

Favorites? Well, they're all lovely, but I did take a particular fancy to Catena's "O celeste verginella" for the tender attitude Grigolo expresses in it. Then there's Mozart's "Ave verum corpus," with Grigolo producing a hushed sensitivity without blowing down the house. The traditional "Voglio chiamar Maria" sounds good with its deep organ accompaniment. A final number, Adam's "O Holy Night," sung with Jackie Evancho and the City of Prague Orchestra, is quite poignant. And, of course, it's hard not to appreciate Schubert's "Ave Maria" no matter who's singing it.

Without question, the album will satisfy Grigolo's fans, and it may even pick up a few new fans in the process.

Producers Chris Alder and Nick Patrick and engineer Neil Hutchinson recorded the music in a variety of locations, including Forum Music Village, Rome; Wathen Hall, London; and Smecky Studio, Prague in 2012-13. As I mentioned above, the chamber orchestra that accompanies Grigolo on most of the numbers is fairly small, and thus it produces a fairly transparent sound. Grigolo’s voice sounds well integrated on most numbers, not too forward but still front and center. The voice itself sounds well defined, robust when necessary, and the engineers captured it pretty well. There is a touch of shrillness occasionally in the highest notes and a bit of edge to the upper strings, but these things shouldn't be of much concern to most listeners.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa