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Ténor Tenore! - French and Italian Opera Arias
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
E lucevan le stelle; Recondita armonia; Che gelida manina; Nessun dorma
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Ah! mes amis; Una furtiva lagrima
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La donna è mobile; Forse la soglia attinse; Celeste Aïda
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Salut! demeure chaste et pure; Ah! lève-toi, soleil
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

La fleur que tu m’avais jetée
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Pourquoi me réveiller; Ah! fuyez, douce image
Yinjia Gong (tenor)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Markus Lehtinen
rec. 2013/14, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland.
Sung texts and English translations provided in booklet
BIS SACD BIS-2066 [77:49]

“Critics are like eunuchs telling tall tales outside a house of pleasure.”

So true; those of us who pass judgement on artists would do well to remember that colourful maxim - but pity the poor tenor who records an album of plums and is then mercilessly measured against predecessors like Björling, Corelli, Bergonzi and Pavarotti.

Admiration for Björling and Gedda led Chinese tenor Yinjia Gong to study and perform in Sweden but his voice does not have so much in common with those two Swedish stars beyond repertoire and tessitura. It is of a beefier, heftier cast, although his top notes can verge upon a bleat which reminds me of Gedda when he was in less than stellar form. There is also something of a beat in the vibrato which prevents his powerful voice being easy on the ear. His habit of singing at a mostly relentless mezzo forte does not help to differentiate one character from another; it can amount to the listener feeling somewhat hectored rather than seduced. However, at the conclusion of “Celeste Aida”, Gong makes a good attempt at the soft B flat Verdi asked for and similarly sings the concluding B of “Ah! lève-toi, soleil” quietly. He is obviously attempting subtlety even when it is not always achieved.

The problem is that his basic tone is not especially beautiful, being effortful, even strident, and prone to too frequent an injection of “les larmes dans la voix”. That he has top notes aplenty, including a top D in the jolly “Postillon” aria, is much in evidence but I cannot say that I much enjoy the sound he makes – although it is no doubt more impressive live. Much of the time I feel as if I am listening to a creditable facsimile of a tenor of the first rank; Gong has more in common with the second-rank tenors so plentiful in Italy of the 1950s. It was Sir Thomas Allen who, when he featured in the recent programme on great voices hosted by another Sir, Antonio Pappano, mischievously described singing as “shouting, but in a musical way” and occasionally here the distinction between the two is not sufficiently apparent. The ear still requires to be caressed by elegance and refinement, as well as power, which is why artists of Björling’s pre-eminence remain rare.

Full credit must go to Gong for learning to sing proficiently in two Romance languages – how does a native Chinese speaker manage it? – yet there is no concealing the fact that he is not entirely idiomatic in either language, especially French. There are several slips in his delivery of the text and for some reason he particular difficulty with enunciating the letter “t” audibly.

The sound here is excellent, with an especially rich and wide dynamic range, although I listened to this SACD disc only on standard stereo equipment. The playing of the Lahti orchestra under Markus Lehtinen is first rate. The programme is inevitably hackneyed by established recital standards and, as I mentioned previously, there is little variation in the creation of mood or the delineation of individual personalities owing to Gong’s strenuous delivery. His singing is impressive in a two-dimensional way but for me the timbre of his voice, issues such as a flat first top B in the aria from “Roméo et Juliette” and an interpretative immaturity all combine to prevent this recital being entirely recommendable.
Ralph Moore


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