Dame Joan Sutherland & Marilyn Horne - Arias and Sacred Songs
Preconceptions, underratings, missed opportunities, or sheer flaming ignorance: all can be remedied here. Did we, by any chance, imagine that Dame Gwyneth’s Verdi would be terrible or Dame Joan’s Mozart delightful? Or that a complete CD recital by Helen Watts might be too much of an undeniably good thing? Wrong, wrong, and (most definitely) wrong again. Or had we, perhaps, forgotten about Felicia Weathers, overlooked Bernadette Greevy, or thought that Erna Spoorenberg was the name of a character in Graham Greene? Do we sometimes get mixed up over the two Jameses, King and McCracken (the series photograph editor seems to have done)? And with the recent glut of Lieder-singing baritones, had we concluded that there would be no point in going back for a Schwanengesang with Tom Krause?
The ten discs in this excellent collection of singers of the 1960s (that, at least, is the focal decade) clarify the memory, help to rectify some critical injustices, and (what no doubt matters most) provide a great deal of pleasure. They make an attractive set (would be, for instance, a good present for the right kind of recipient), though presumably they are intended for single or selective buying. If choosing, I think I would eliminate the first on the headings-list and the last. Marilyn Horne’s Handel is magnificent in velocity and velours, a sumptuous rose-red voice, its athletic feats all the more impressive for being performed in this majestic attire. But it doesn’t sound much like Handel, what with the close miking and some unstylish playing by the Vienna Cantata Orchestra under Henry Lewis. The coupling with Sutherland’s late Mozart recital (1979) is not fortunate: the voice had loosened by then, the phrases are too often a sequence of individualized notes, the “Alleluia” is formal and unsmiling (the accompaniment too), and Susanna’s aria is sleepy. Then, for the last record on the list: no, Gueden’s voice provides delicious refreshment, but how freshness is needed among the stale wedding-cake of these gipsy loves and gipsy countesses. And the programme of nastily arranged popular songs (
My own favourites are the Helen Watts recital and the Krause. Watts does all things well, but in the cantata Carco sempre di gloria she is superb. It’s also a splendid work – and this really does sound like Handel – otherwise currently available only with a male alto, Lesne or Ragin, as soloist, which may not be to everyone’s taste. Krause’s Schwanengesang, Irwin Gage accompanying, is controversial (and I think unconvincing) in its ordering of the songs; but the singing (‘real’ singing) is admirable, with particularly fine performances of “In die Ferne” and “Ihr Bild”. Then, as an unexpected sequel, we have Krause in operatic arias, starting with one from Leoncavallo’s Boheme, which he sings as to the manner born.
Brief comments now on the rest, following the order of the listing above. The Zeani/Sciutti coupling is particularly welcome, Zeani with her plentiful vitality and authentic Italian style (though Romanian-born), Sciutti with her neat little voice used with much charm and accomplishment. Jones in Wagner, Beethoven and Cherubini is rather as expected of her at that date (the big voice, the ample high notes, the unevenness of production incipient, not fully developed), but the Verdi arias are really very impressive, with a fine messa di voce for the connoisseurs at the start of “Pace, pace” and a winning account of the other Leonora’s aria, “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il trovatore. Felicia Weathers has some of the same Verdi arias in her programme, generally well sung though not quite with sufficient imagination to communicate very memorably. Of the spirituals and folk-songs, a cheeky little number called Chere mo lemme toi appeals and
The Greevy/Robinson disc recalls those two valued artists, both of them in an all-Handel programme, Greevy singing with rich tone (particularly fine in the little-known aria from Alexander Balus) and Forbes Robinson doing an honest job on the runs and, in “Honour and arms”, displaying his range from a high F to low D. Mitchell and Spoorenberg have in common their lyrical grace and purity of tone, and Spoorenberg’s Mozart is as delightful as anything in the whole series. The tenors, King and McCracken, also make an interesting partnership, King achieving real intensity in Tannhauser’s Rome narrative, McCracken tense and fiery in Dick Johnson’s “Or son sei mesi”.
Recorded sound is good throughout, and the booklets have useful notes by John T. Hughes. Presumably the provision of texts would prohibitively have raised production costs. But we miss them!'