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French Arias

The singing of Marcelo Álvarez -
assessed by JOHN BELL YOUNG

'... in the refined and complex world of art music, intuition is hardly enough ...'

Marcelo Alvarez - French Arias. © 2001 Sony Classical

It never fails. The behemoth record companies, awash with huge budgets to lavish on those they deem, not always correctly, to be stars or even talents, set forth what amounts to an apologia in the liner notes in praise of the featured artist. Whether this is to assuage a performer's fragile ego, or to justify the expenditure on a performer who would better have been left to a vanity label, is unclear. That's a pity, when there are any number of authentically great talents languishing out there who don't enjoy, for any number of reasons, the benefits of such corporate and public relations machinery.

Here is a case in point. Marcelo Álvarez, a young Argentinean tenor in desperate need of a good vocal coach and solid musical training, is given a platform for proximity within the musical mainstream. In this disc of French arias composed largely by Italians, Mr Álvarez demonstrates his shortcomings, both vocal and interpretive, in one aria after the next. In the opening biographical interview, Mr Álvarez, portrayed with dripping sentimentality as a once down-on-his luck fellow who mysteriously made it to the big time, unwittingly boasts of knowing his limitations. Were that only true, he would have rejected the inclusion of at least half of the repertoire committed to this disc. One need not dwell on the poverty of his heavily accented French, or a raw voice that sits naively and consistently in the throat -- a vocal catastrophe just waiting to happen -- but on his inability to move beyond a single color or timbre. As he strains to sustain so much as a single pitch, his breath waning no matter what the register, Mr Álvarez proves that he is nothing if not an intuitive singer. But in the refined and complex world of art music, intuition is hardly enough, and certainly no substitute for specificity of articulation and intonation.

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Copyright © 21 July 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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