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No. 54 - November, 2005

Jason Victor Serinus


Discs Reviewed:

Disc of the Month: CECILIA BARTOLI: OPERA PROIBITA - DECCA B0005151-02
CHANTICLEER: SOUND IN SPIRIT - WARNER R2 61941
LINDA EDER: BY MYSELF: THE SONGS OF JUDY GARLAND - ANGEL/EMI 0946 E 37733 2 5V
LEGEND: DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU - SCHUBERT - EMI 7243 5 580370 2
DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU: SALZBURGER LIEDERABENDE 1956-1965 - ORFEO C3390501
THE ART OF DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU - DG 2 DVD B0004498-09
DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU: AN DIE MUSIK - DG 000289 477 5556
OSVALDO GOLIJOV: AYRE - DG B0004782-02
LOTTE LEHMANN: FRAUENLIEBE UND LEBEN, ETC. - HƒNSSLER CLASSIC CD 94.508
LOTTE LEHMANN: MASTER CLASSES VOL. 1 LIEDER - VAI DVD 4326
LOTTE LEHMANN: MASTER CLASSES VOL. 2 OPERA - VAI DVD 4327
MY LADY RICH: HER TEARES AND JOY - EMILY VAN EVERA & CHRISTOPHER MORRONGIELLO - AVIE 0045

 
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CECILIA BARTOLI: OPERA PROIBITA - DECCA B0005151-02

 

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Rarely do we encounter vocalism so inspired that it makes you want to stand up and shout. But that's just the reaction Cecilia Bartoli's sensational new CD, Opera Proibita, engenders. The mezzo-soprano's coloratura technique, high extension, and emotional commitment are so thrilling that it is virtually impossible to contain oneself as she spins out one impossibly difficult aria after another.

Given the sheer difficulty of execution Bartoli's highly ornamented repertoire presents, one might surmise that the CD's title Opera Proibita refers to prohibitive nature of the writing. While the double entendre is undoubtedly intentional, the title actually describes music written during the ban on operatic performance enforced in Rome during the first decade of eighteenth century.

In 1701, Pope Clement XI, taking his cue from his predecessor, Pope Innocent XII, placed a ban on all public operatic performance. While Clement's initial excuse may have been the worsening political conflict between Italy and Spain, the real reason lay in the Church's moral conflict with the very idea of theatre, which the papacy had condemned as a harbinger of sin and damnation. It certainly did not help the Church's image that members of its own clergy had been seen in theaters openly enjoying themselves at the sides of courtesans or castratos.

Two years later, after Rome suffered two violent albeit non-lethal earthquakes, Clement extended his ban on all forms of theatrical entertainment as supposed act of thanksgiving. Not until 1710 did theaters renew attempts to stage operas. Even then, the Church continued to ban women from the public stage, leaving high vocal parts to castrati (male vocalists who genitals were intentionally sacrificed in boyhood for the sake of Christian purity).

The Papacy's decade-long ban was about as successful as Bush's War on Drugs. Cardinals and Princes continued to commission lavish musical works staged at private palaces, and operatic composers merely shifted vehicles from writing operas to oratorios centering on allegorical discourses or sacred subjects. Nor was Christian morality maintained in such works as Caldara's Il Trionfo dell'innocenza (The Victory of Innocence) – one of whose arias is heard here -- in which two male castratos sing the roles of two girls courting each other.

Bartoli sings arias written during the decade of prohibition by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), Antonio Caldara (c.1670-1736), and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). While these men could certainly write soft and gentle arias – a case in point being Scarlatti's "Mentre io godo in dolce oblio" from Il Giardino di Rose, in which the singer sweetly rests among the flowers as the orchestral writing unmistakably simulates a gentle breeze – they also seem to have reacted to the Papal ban with a vengeance. Scarlatti's "All'arme si accesi guerrieri," which Bartoli tears through with astounding speed and force, is but one of several arias in which Biblical tales or moral allegories provide the excuse for composition of breathtaking force and virtuosic display.

There are times when Bartoli's extended phrases are so perfectly executed that her breath control reminds one of CaballÈ's. One example occurs in St. Francesca's aria from Caldara's Oratorio per Santa Francesca Romana, where Bartoli also demonstrates her fabled ability to convey pathos via mesmerizing soft, sustained tones. Equally impressive is her trill, held for several seconds in the disc's final selection, Mary Magdalene's moving recitative and aria from Handel's La Resurrezone di Nostra Signor Geso Cristo.

While much of this repertoire is newly recovered and previously unknown to modern audiences, vocal lovers will recognize the trumpet accompaniment in Handel's "Come nembo che fugge col vento" from the great aria "Vivi, tiranno" from Rodelinda, and the touching melody of "Lascia la spina" as a variation of the poignant Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo (Bartoli's most heavily applauded encore on her last U.S. recital tour). Not all the arias count among a composer's best, but such beauties as the dance of voice and winds in Handel's aria for Mary Magdalene, the solo harpsichord that begins Caldara's aria for Empress Faustina, and the delicious winds in Scarlatti's Aria for Ismael make one long for more.

Conductor Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre deserve applause. The playing is delicious. Thanks to such name musicians as JÈrÙme HantaÔ and Jory Vinikour, a gratifying rainbow of clear, authentic instrument colors highlights the myriad wonders of the mezzo-soprano's voice.

At 39, Cecilia Bartoli is clearly in her prime. The voice has never been more beautiful. Just when we think we know all that she can accomplish, she confounds the senses by conquering her most challenging repertoire to date. Indeed, the searing highs in the da capo variations that conclude Beauty's aria from Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e de Disinganno defy all reasonable expectation. This is vocal mastery of the highest order.


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CHANTICLEER: SOUND IN SPIRIT - WARNER R2 61941

 

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Sound in Spirit, the latest CD from the pitch-perfect male vocal ensemble Chanticleer glows with a pantheistic reverence for the transcendent. It's the same warm glow we have come to expect from a group that consistently sells out its annual Christmas concerts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art way in advance.

The 27-year old group, founded by the late countertenor Louis Botto, has frequently addressed the spiritual through song and poetry. But from their earliest recordings of Renaissance vocal music, Christmas songs, gospel, and spirituals, Chanticleer has mostly focused on sacred Christian music. Here they open their arms wider, embracing Buddhist, metaphysical and other spiritual paths.

The vehicle for Chanticleer's spiritual coming out of sorts is a virtually seamless soundscape, especially conceived for CD, that unites contrasting traditional and cutting edge composition in a manner that underscores the ultimate oneness of diverse spiritual paths.

In the tradition of much New Age music, Sound in Spirit begins with the sounds of water, crickets and wind. These soon segue into "Incantation" one of three excerpts from Jan Gilbert's NightChants, a seventy-minute, theatrical/vocal celebration comprised of fourteen experimental chant settings. One the setting's call for nature sounds inspired Chanticleer's members walked outside the recording studio, connected with nature, and engage in some rare on-site nighttime improvisation.

Gilbert's mysterious incantation opens the door to "Axion Estin," a more familiar sounding19th century Romanian chant notable for its mystical bass drone. Next follow Chanticleer Music Director Joseph Jennings' short "Sound in Spirit," a primitive-sounding tribute to Buddhism, and several pieces of the Gregorian and Renaissance sacred music for which Chanticleer is famed. All are performed with Chanticleer's characteristic sincerity and purity of tone.

One of the disc's most gratifying selections, "In Winter's Keeping," was composed especially for Chanticleer by Japanese traditional music specialist Jackson Hill. Hill adapts tunings, effects, and ornamentation common to Buddhist chant to create a gorgeous setting of a seventh-century poem about the most beautiful season of the year.

Such memorable music paves the way for the most experimental work on the program, Giacinto Scelsi's "Gloria" from Tre canti sacri (Three sacred songs) for eight mixed voices. "Gloria" is an especially wild ride in which traditional Roman Catholic chant seems to break apart.

According to musicologist Michel Rigoni, Scelsi's songs use "elements from known traditions in order to go beyond the ä conflicts between the religions, striving for a religion without god or worship but in search of a profound reality of the universe and a spirit of peace." The men of Chanticleer outdo themselves , imbuing Scelsi's extraordinary music with vital power.

Even when a piece such as Sarah Hopkins' "Past Life Melodies" again employs harmonies familiar to western ears, Chanticleer enlivens matters by indulging in the kinds overtone chanting sometimes encountered in Tibetan ritual. Tibet also surfaces in the final selection, "Grace to You" from Jan Gilbert's NightChants, where Joseph Jennings plays Tibetan singing bowl.


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LINDA EDER: BY MYSELF: THE SONGS OF JUDY GARLAND - ANGEL/EMI 0946 E 37733 2 5V

 

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The release of Linda Eder's By Myself: The Songs of Judy Garland (Angel/EMI) seems like a natural step in her vocal evolution. Like Judy, Linda was raised in Minnesota farm country. She too has a stunning set of pipes, as well as a voice that encompasses a wide range. And she also has a large \ following, one that will certainly want to check out this tribute to a much-loved icon who perpetually struggled to transcend her own demons.

Eder credits Garland as a major influence on her career.

"I always felt a connection to her," she explains. "She was all about the goose bump factorä From the time I was a kid, my 'teachers' were Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and [classical/jazz soprano] Eileen Farrell."

Eder may have an uncanny ability to alter the timbre of her voice – the innocent, sweet soprano heard performing "Build my House and "Dream with Me" from Bernstein's Peter Pan hardly sounds like the same woman who captures more than a bit of Garland's style as she belts out Judy's classic "By Myself" – but she does not, at least on much of this recording, sound anything like Garland. Her instrument is simply too healthy-sounding, and too pure and sweet as it climbs the stave.

Nor does she possess anywhere near Judy's ability to produce sounds of heartbreak and self-torture.

According to Linda's PR, her goal was not to mimic the Garland style, "but rather to capture the contrasting strength and fragility of Judy's voice." She cites her own challenges of the last few years, including a recent divorce that brought both freedom and the responsibilities of single motherhood, as deepening her ability to credibly tackle Judy's repertoire.

"No one escapes the lows," she says, "and Judy's were extreme, but you felt you knew her."

I'm not sure I can say the same thing about Linda. After listening to this recording any number of times, I don't feel I know her any better.

I admire Eder's singing, to be sure. But there's nothing on this recording that grabs me in the way that Garland or Streisand or the phenomenal force of nature known as Eileen Farrell did and continue to do. Perhaps it's the plastic polish of some of the arrangements, or the characteristically modern Broadway/pop vocal touches that often sound far more Streisand than Garland. For whatever reasons, Judy's soul-gripping whir of sound that so touched our hearts with its raw emotion and vulnerability is sadly absent from this tribute.


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LEGEND: DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU - SCHUBERT - EMI 7243 5 580370 2

 

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DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU: SALZBURGER LIEDERABENDE 1956-1965 - ORFEO C3390501

 

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DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU: AN DIE MUSIK - DG 000289 477 5556

 

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TRIBUTE: DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU AT 80

"This voice is too beautiful," I reflected upon first hearing baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing Schubert. "I'm so entranced by the glories of this man's voice that I can't focus on the music."

Opinions do change, however, especially as we age. Thanks to a fair amount of new and reissued performances, some on DVD, we can now reassess the artistry of the man who, for close to 40 years until his retirement in 1993, reigned as the world's most respected and prodigiously recorded exponent of German classical song.

One need only turn to EMI Classics' Legend: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau - Schubert reissue of the 1962 Schubert Schwanengesang -the posthumously published collection of 14 Swansongs somewhat arbitrarily lumped together after Schubert's death -- to hear the voice near first bloom. Selflessly accompanied by the great Gerald Moore, the baritone lavishes his many gifts on some of Schubert's greatest lieder (songs). With hardly a trace of the over-emphasis that frequently marred his interpretations in later years, Fischer-Dieskau treats us to his ravishing, honeyed mezza voce on highs, thrilling virile declamation, and impeccable legato. The sensitive variation of vibrato alone is remarkable. Even if one might quibble with individual interpretations - Gerhard H¸sch's lighter, subtly nuanced rendition of "Die Taubenpost," for example, far more successfully captures the airborne hope and pain of this ode to carrier pigeon and beloved - the performances, taken as a whole, are nothing short of magnificent.

One of the greatest treasures of this year's 80th birthday tribute is Orfeo's 11-CD Die Salzburger Liederabende boxed set of the song recitals (liederabende) Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore performed annually at Salzburg between 1956 and 1965. (The 11th bonus disc features the baritone paired with soprano Irmgard Seefried in 1960 Wolf recitals accompanied by Erik Werba and Gerald Moore).

The first disc includes excerpts from Schubert's Schwanengesang plus Schumann's complete Dichterliebe song cycle. Recorded live in 1956 in beautiful mono sound, both reveal the singer in irresistibly fresh and resonant voice. Yes, there are times when one might wish that he'd stop trying to make his Dichterliebe convey every possible meaning Schumann and poet Heinrich Heine may have intended, and instead trust that the heart and voice can speak their truth without fussing. ("Why in the world is he doing that?" is hardly a unique reaction). Regardless, this rendition rates as one of the finest I've heard from a baritone's throat. How many others can offer such caressingly sweet, tenor-tinged tones on top, manly resonance in the lower range, and the wealth of color Fischer-Dieskau brings to these 16 songs?

That's just the first CD in this extraordinary set. Fischer-Dieskau usually programmed a single composer in an evening, believing that mixed composer programs prohibited audiences from fully entering the creator's sonic, philosophical, and spiritual universe. As a result, he delivered entire Salzburg recitals devoted solely to Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Wolf, or Beethoven; only one Salzburg recital mixes composers, in this case Busoni, Mahler, Pfitzner, and Strauss. We don't have translations - for that you'll need to turn to other recordings, or to F-D's paperback volume of his own translations of German lieder - but we do have interpretations graced by the extra frisson of live performance.

Mention of Mahler leads to another treasure, Deutsche Grammophon's The Art of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau two-DVD set of operatic performances and lieder. In writing this five-song orchestral cycle, Mahler somehow presaged the death of his own daughter, alienating his wife Alma in the process. Not even the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier's extant performances of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) prepared me for the emotional intensity of Fischer-Dieskau's live 1968 performance with Lorin Maazel and the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Just taking in the intensity of Fischer-Dieskau's facial expressions proves shattering.

The DVD also includes a program of collected lieder with Wolfgang Sawallisch at the piano. Filmed for television in 1974, the frequent change of composer and clichÈd sets (busts of Greek statuary, books, stained glass, pedestals, and the like) must have disturbed the baritone, because the performances grow progressively uneasy. The voice is also occasionally hectoring, with less resort to sweet head tones. Nonetheless, there are breathtaking revelations. Richard Strauss' "Morgen!" may begin rushed, with more than one wrong note in the mix, but the ad libitum conclusion is mesmerizing, sustained with a rapt intensity few singers can achieve.

We can begin to assess Fischer-Dieskau's operatic greatness via the DVD excerpts from Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Il tabarro, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Arabella, and the extraordinary 1982 performance of Aribert Reimann's Lear. Everything is sung in German, which for better or worse was the convention of the period. (Hey, if Giacomo Puccini insisted that Lotte Lehmann sing the Viennese premiere of his Suor Angelica, and was moved to tears even though she undoubtedly performed it in German, we can get over it). The voice at times seems too soft-edged and warm, but the acting is surprisingly good, with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's stage direction in Figaro placing great emphasis on the eyes.

The tribute also includes two "bonus" interviews conducted by Jens Malte Fischer. Not one for small talk, the octogenarian baritone freely interrupts his interrogator's pedantic rehashing of what anyone reading the set's contents and notes already knows. Even with judicious editing, we manage to learn about half of what we could have learned had Fischer gotten out of the way.

EMI Classics has released a two-CD set of Fischer-Dieskau's 1978 Mahler collaborations with pianist Daniel Barenboim. I trust there are revelations to be had from this set, but a brief listen revealed the artist in slightly shaky, off-putting voice. Better to forego its Mahler rarities and turn to orchestral versions of Mahler cycles with Furtw‰ngler, Kempe and others.

TDK has issued a DVD of Fischer-Dieskau's rendition of Schubert's beloved song cycle Die Schˆne M¸llerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill) with pianist Andr·s Schiff. As a learning experience, students and admirers will grab this example of the 66-year old artist compensating for diminished resources. Many will also will want DG's two-CD Melodramen set of the 80 year-old master reciting melodrama by Strauss, Schumann, Ullman, and Liszt over Burkhard Kehring's piano.

For the rest of us, a treasure: DG's two-CD plus bonus DVD Limited Edition box set, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: An die Musik. The two CDs of lieder interspersed with the occasional operatic excerpt mostly capture Fischer-Dieskau in his prime. Most performances have been available previously on CD, albeit in poorer transfers and/or only in complete sets complete with accompanied the translations absent herein.

What stands out above all is the bonus disc, the first DVD release of the baritone's 1978 TV recital of eight Schubert lied with the great Sviatoslav Richter. Amazingly, even though Fischer-Dieskau was so ill with a cold that he had to leave the room after each song to blow his nose, he sings magnificently, far better than in the R¸ckert lieder from the same year. Obviously he relished the opportunity to work with Richter. Even if you own many of the other performances in the set, this DVD is not to be missed.

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OSVALDO GOLIJOV: AYRE - DG B0004782-02

 

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Osvaldo Golijov is that rare composer who can create gorgeous alchemical syntheses from multi-cultural texts, ancient musical forms, and contemporary concerns. His compellingly modern sound and marvelous sense of color and texture undoubtedly drew the Kronos Quartet to him, producing numerous original collaborations and arrangements that exhibit an uncanny ability to seduce us with their magic.

Now Golijov turns to the great soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom he has written a number of works, to create the right voice(s) for Ayre, his riveting new cycle of 11 songs just released on DG. Conceived as a companion work for the other work on the disc, Luciano Berio's pioneering Folk Songs (1964) – 11 settings of folks songs from seven different regions of the world written for chamber ensemble and the estimable talents of Berio's wife and muse, mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian – Ayre literally stuns the senses as it combines acoustic instruments and electronic sound design with the wonders of Upshaw's artistry.

Golijov, 45, was born into an Eastern European Jewish family and raised in Argentina. Having spent years studying in Jerusalem, Siena, and the United States, he has internalized the sounds, feelings, and paradoxes of opposing cultures that continue to deny their commonalities. European chamber music, traditional Jewish chants, klezmer melodies, Piazzolla's new tango, and studies with modernists George Crumb and Oliver Knussen have together served to hone skills that can transform everything from gypsy music and Mexican rock into electro-acoustic soundscapes that resonate with timeless truth and beauty.

No amount of previous experience with Dawn Upshaw's ability to sing baroque laments, classic folk song, radiant Mozart, Broadway hits (including Bernstein's hilarious "Glitter and Be Gay"), Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen, and Kaija Saariaho's mesmerizing modern music could prepare me for what she does with her voice on Ayre. Upshaw comes off as a vocal chameleon of sorts, producing a wide range of voices, affect, and nuance than I could have possibly imagined.

Even though I know that the only voice heard is Upshaw's, I find it hard to believe that the strange, ranting voice heard through quasi-Sardinian hip-hop electronica is hers. Her versatility is dumbfounding.

It is hard to resist the whirling the dance of "Wa Habibi," during which Upshaw's artistry becomes increasingly animated; the low, pained and impassioned voice on "Aiini taqtiru," where weeping transcends verbiage; and the sensuous wailing of "Ariadne in her labyrinth," distinguished by the Upshaw's masterful alteration of straight tone, vibrato, and color. Also remarkable is the way Golijov interweaves Upshaw's English reading of a long, contemporary poem from a Palestinian in exile with a 12th century Sephardic call to prayer that features electronic reverb on voice.

Ayre speaks to the heart of the cultural clashes that threaten to destroy us. Ending with a traditional Sephardic romance that bespeaks the pain of separation, personal, political, and spiritual entwine as the music's soul-touching beauty reminds us that the joys and passion of embodiment transcend the illusion of difference. As Golijov has stated, "The matters that are most important in life re love and the possibility of the existence of God. For me, the leitmotiv underlying everything I write is that life is more sacred than ideas."

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LOTTE LEHMANN: FRAUENLIEBE UND LEBEN - HƒNSSLER CLASSIC CD 94.508

 

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LOTTE LEHMANN: MASTER CLASSES VOL. 1 LIEDER - VAI DVD 4326

 

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LOTTE LEHMANN: MASTER CLASSES VOL. 2 OPERA - VAI DVD 4327

 

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Adored by Toscanini, favored by Bruno Walter, chosen by Richard Strauss to create several of his roles, dramatic soprano Lotte Lehmann (1988-1976) possessed a voice like no other. Her sound was immediately distinctive, with its thrilling top and palpable vibrancy. Despite a shortness of breath, which she hid by using catch breaths to inject extra passion into her interpretations; a rather shallow low range; and a fear of notes above a high B, Lehmann was revered for the incomparable intensity and depth of her interpretations.

Guided by a profound emotional intelligence, Lotte Lehmann was able to project an enormous range of emotions and colors, playing her voice like a violin. Rapture, grief, child-like wonder, nostalgia, pain, iron-fisted determination, excitement, wide-eyed fear and hysteria, bitterness, despair, irony, wit, deep faith and more were expressed with unmistakable clarity. Strong feelings were never merely hinted at or intellectualized; they were first felt deep within her being, then externalized with heart-touching sincerity. That Lehmann could communicate extraordinary depth of feeling while maintaining flawless enunciation and pitch was a marvel.

Although Lehmann sounds like Lehmann even on her earliest acoustic recordings from 1916, far more of her voice and nuance can be heard on the electrical recordings she made starting in 1927. She was already 39 years old, and reached her vocal peak just three years later. While her interpretations continued to deepen until her retirement in 1951, the heavier and lower voice of later years was not always able to express all she wished to share. For the soaring, ringing voice and near-breathless enthusiasm of Lehmann at her best, we must turn to the prized early electricals recorded between 1927 and 1932.

For Lehmann lovers, H‰nssler Classics' decision to release a number of her earliest electrical lieder (song) recordings by Schumann, Schubert and Brahms is cause for celebration. Despite conforming to the convention of the time and performing to unidiomatic orchestral accompaniment, Lehmann manages to sound entirely free, spontaneous, and convincing.

Of special interest in Lehmann's first version of Schumann's Frauenliebe und leben (A woman's love and life), recorded in 1928 with an instrumental trio conducted by Frieder Weismann. Nowhere in my almost 40 years of collecting Lehmann recordings have I previously encountered this great performance. Like most admirers of Lehmann and Schumann's cycle, I have instead made do with her 1941 remake, sung in far too mature voice to imperfect support from Bruno Walter's piano. The results, albeit arresting, never fully captured the rapture of the young bride whom Schumann's music brings to life.

The 40-year old Lehmann's Frauenliebe und Leben is something else. From her opening phrase, "Since I saw him, I believe I am blind," we feel the passion of a woman in the first throws of love. The rapture builds as the cycle of eight songs unfolds. As old fashioned as Chamiso's poetic sentiments may be, Lehmann sings with such conviction that we can actually imagine a young bride pressing her little golden wedding ring to her lips. The contrast between Lehmann's soaring romantic abandon and the hollow tone she uses to evoke the woman's lost love is shattering.

Further rewards come with four familiar songs by Schubert and four others by Brahms. All recorded in 1927, when Lehmann could comfortably sing softly in her upper range, these renditions enable us to hear nuances incompletely voiced in later years when Lehmann's instrument lost some of its ease and her range lowered.

Schubert's famed hymn to music, "An die Musik," was Lehmann's final encore at her 1951 Town Hall Farewell Recital. She never finished the performance, sweeping from the stage in the middle of the final verse as the voice cracked and tears broke through. We encounter her in far happier times in 1927, the voice free and easy on high, her faith expressed in soft, caressing (albeit never virginal) tones. This is a spirit as yet unburdened by the scourge of Nazism that drove her and many of her colleagues from Germany.

It is hard not to love Lehmann's Brahms, especially the magical lullaby "Sandm‰nnchen" lullaby from 1932 and the gripping loneliness of "Die Mainacht" from 1931. The disc ends with six somewhat ponderous religious hymns recorded in 1929 to organ accompaniment. Had we only been given more great lieder instead. Here's hoping that H‰nssler graces us with Volume II.

When she was 73, KQED San Francisco journeyed to Santa Barbara to film two of Lehmann's master classes at the Music Academy of the West. Although her most famous pupils, Marilyn Horne and Grace Bumbry, were not in attendance, a bunch of less gifted singers are shown profiting greatly from Lehmann's guidance.

As a teacher, Lehmann is extraordinary. Singing, speaking, and croaking words and phrases, she acts out arias and songs. Totally involved in her interpretations, interrupting singers as necessary, she gives us a genuine sense of the total conviction she brought to her interpretations.

Lehmann's enactment of the Marschallin's Monologue from Der Rosenkavalier is essential viewing. Several decades before Schwarzkopf came on the scene, Lehmann was the Marschallin that Strauss preferred. Whether singing in her prime with two other of Strauss' favorite singers, Richard Mayr and Elisabeth Schumann, or speaking the Marschallin's words 16 years after relinquishing the role, Lehmann fully captured the Marschallin's nostalgic longing for her lost youth.

The lieder class is no less gripping. Compare Lehmann's reenactment of songs from Schubert's Die Winterreise and Die schˆne M¸llerin with recordings made 20 years earlier. Then check out the performance of the final song from Frauenliebe und leben, which Lehmann recorded 33 years earlier. These DVDs bring our understanding of this great artist full circle.

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MY LADY RICH: HER TEARES AND JOY - EMILY VAN EVERA & CHRISTOPHER MORRONGIELLO - AVIE 0045

 

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Although the UK's Avie label has not released an SACD since Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's magnificent Handel recital issued over a year ago, their commitment to producing audiophile quality recordings of fine artists remains paramount. A case in point is this wonderful recording of Elizabethan music dedicated to Lady Penelope Rich (1563-1607).

The beauty, intellect, passion, and fine musicianship of Lady Penelope Rich made her one of the most alluring and renowned women of the Elizabethan age. Both famed courtier-poet Sir Philip Sidney and gentleman soldier Charles Blount (the future Lord Mountjoy, Earl of Devonshire) were respectively wooed off their feet by her many charms.

Sidney memorialized Lady Penelope Rich through private verse, namely his famous Astrophil and Stella sequence of love poetry in which Astrophil (star lover) was based on Sidney himself, and Stella (star) was based on Penelope. This poetry proved so influential that it spawned the Elizabethan vogue for love sonnets.

Thanks to poetry, music, and assorted documents from the period, Lady Penelope Rich's relationship with her next lover, Lord Mountjoy, has become the stuff of legend. The couple's mutual devotion and ultimate tragic end is recalled in any number of musical works dedicated to or directly linked to her. These compositions, combined with contemporaneous music that reflects the Elizabeth milieu in general and Penelope's surroundings in particular, have been woven together to form a rich musical portrait of her life.

Emily Van Evera, an early music specialist who was born in Minnesota and later moved to Oxfordshire, sings with great warmth and knowing. The beauty of her voice, which has graced any number of award-winning recordings, is enough to make one hit "repeat" on the CD player. Bonuses come in the form of her twelve exhaustive pages of liner notes, lyrics for all the songs, and the lute mastery of Christopher Morrongiello, who frequently collaborates with Van Evera in concert performances. Other stellar musicians heard on the disc have performed with the Dufay Collective, Fretwork, The Palladian Ensemble, Charivari, the Tallis Scholars, The Taverner Consort, the Hilliard Ensemble, Red Byrd, Florilegium, Concordia, and Phantasm. For those drawn to the music of this period, the quality of the musicianship makes this recording a must.

 

- Jason Victor Serinus -

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