Placido Domingo – Sacred Songs
The title and contents look like a page fallen from an old recipe book. At the top somebody long ago has pencilled Sunday Dessert, and, in brackets, ‘rich’. A few more recent additions have been made in ballpoint pen. At the end, also in ballpoint, is the comment ‘Inspirational’ with exclamation marks.
That dread word has found its way, by the third sentence, into the booklet’s introductory note, which is itself a suitably inspirational document with more to say about personalities than music. It still amazes me that the platitudes of performing artists can be sought out in time-wasting interviews and relayed to the musical public as though they were of interest (‘Music comes from the heart and describes feelings,’ says Sissel Kyrkjebø, and Maestro Viotti vouchsafes that ‘musicians must communicate everything they have in their souls’).
At least we learn that Domingo believes he still has some years ahead, and certainly on the showing of this record no one would doubt it. Vocally, he seems everlasting, the tone beautiful as ever, and, at an age when most singers seek compensation for declining powers in over-emphasis or reliance on the special effects department, he sings ever more scrupulously in all matters concerning style and technique. In feeling, he combines passion with restraint, and in a programme which could well incite to unction and sentimentality he is dignified without being dry.
It is largely thanks to him (Viotti and his players assisting) that the old recipe gains freshness of presentation. For instance, Handel’s Largo (as it used to be known) is a stale choice out of the vast Handelian repertoire available, but at least the style of performance has been revised from the days of Caruso and Gigli. The solo from Elijah, which might once have been similarly stale, is now almost a novelty. ‘Der Engel’, first of the Wesendonck Lieder, though perhaps questionably ‘sacred’, is also a relatively unexpected presence, and Domingo sings it beautifully.
On the other hand, there’s Schubert dressed up as a sugar-plum fairy in the Italianised arrangement (with heavenly choir) of his cradle song with which Gigli cooed to his bambino in a 1930s film. There’s also Sissel Kyrkjebø, who looks and sounds pretty enough but doesn’t really add much apart from interpolating a spoken Ave Maria over the orchestra in Mascagni’s intermezzo. There are some good things, too (Gounod’s breast-baring Repentir, for example), but if this particular page has indeed fallen out of the recipe book, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to paste it back in again.