Valentine's Day recordings
To complement your Valentine's Day, Minnesota Public Radio music director Rex Levang recommends recordings by three women whose stunning voices pull at the heartstrings.
Susan Graham at Carnegie Hall
Live recordings are a funny proposition. At their least successful, they can seem to be nothing but a convenient (and cheaper?) alternative to studio recordings. But at their best, they can capture an artist in top form, and also convey some of the special excitement of the event that they document.
This disc is in the second category. Susan Graham, one of America's leading singers, gave this song recital last April at Carnegie Hall. Though the repertoire here doesn't include any standards, she clearly keeps her audience in the palm of her hand.
The program opens with groups of songs by Brahms, Berg and Debussy—intimate renditions, lovingly sung. But what many listeners will remember from this disc comes later, when Graham decides to have a little fun.
There are some charmers from the French operetta repertoire, and also an encore, written especially for Graham, which tells of the travails of a mezzo who longs to be a glamorous leading lady—only to wind up in opera's "trouser" roles time after time.
In Memoriam Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)
This two-disc set is a tribute to a singer who remains unique and beloved 50 years after her death.
The contralto Kathleen Ferrier came from a provincial English town, and was a telephone operator before she decided in 1937 to make music her career. Ten years later she had a national reputation, followed by a brief term of international stardom, before her death from cancer at the age of 41.
Ferrier carved her own repertoire out for herself. She sang very little opera (only two operatic roles on stage), and centered her career on the great sacred works of Bach and Handel, German art song and, memorably, the British folk songs that often closed her recitals. (Her unaccompanied rendition of Blow the Wind Southerly is something of an icon of postwar British culture.) To all of these, she brought not only a beautiful voice but also an artistic personality that managed to be both dignified and directly appealing.
All of these areas are represented on this set. Some highlights, to pick only a few: the arias from Gluck's Orfeo, the folk song arrangements by Hughes and Quilter, and the Mahler songs performed with conductor Bruno Walter.
The Salieri Album: Cecilia Bartoli
Cecilia Bartoli's recent discs have an interesting strategy behind them. It works like this: Find a composer whose name everyone knows, scour his output for unfamiliar pieces that haven't been recorded dozens of times before and present record buyers with a disc of surprising treats.
Having already done so with Vivaldi and Gluck, she has now gone after a more surprising quarry, Antonio Salieri.
To most people, Salieri is more symbol than composer. At one time he was a minor footnote in music history. He is now best known as the leading figure in Amadeus, the archetype of mediocre careerism and the composer who supposedly killed Mozart.
On this disc of opera arias, the real Salieri—not the fictional character—proves he is not on Mozart's level as a composer, but then, who is?
Music lovers who assume Salieri to be completely talentless are in for a surprise, and fans of this singer will be happy to see the Bartoli Stratagem once again yielding beguiling results.