Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two current sopranos: "Built" for Strauss/Simpering, whimpering

I found a link today to a sample of Nina Stemme's new recording of the Vier letzte Lieder.

I listened to the "Im Abendrot"; it was okay. I found it interesting that the NPR commentator had to say about her: "Stemme has a voice built for this music — strong, brushed silver tempered with a touch of cream." I'm not sure I would agree that the voice is "built" for Strauss. I find it interesting that they use this particularly turn of phrase in describing her voice. It certainly "built"in that it does not sound terribly natural or free to me. As for the touch of cream, I think you need more than a touch of cream to sing these songs well. She is okay, but not a singer I would turn to again and again for this music. Flagstad sang the premiere of these songs, of course, but very few other hochdramatisch soprani have attempted these. I'm not saying that Stemme is such a singer: to my ear she does not seem to be. I do not know any of her other work and I will reserve judgment until I hear the rest of the cycle and perhaps a bit of the Tristan with Domingo if I can take it.

BTW, Rothenberger recorded it in the seventies with André Previn, I believe it was. I would be interested to hear that performance; also Augér's, two singers I usually like very much. And Elly Ameling (!) sang this at the Concertgebouw at the very end (!) of her career. I don't know how she would have managed to even hit the high B in "Frühling" or float the the high-lying ethereal phrases in "Beim Schlafengehen". Not necessarily well-advised, but I'm sure she did it with supreme taste. And besides, at that point, she could do whatever she wanted. Kind of like Sayao singing Margerita in Mefistofele at the end of her career. As to Stemme and her recording, give me Jurinac, give me della Casa, give me Janowitz, give me Isokoski. BTW, I just found a very interesting link that lists most if not all performances of these songs that are (or were ever) available on recordings.

Also to return briefly to the crossover topic with which I have been concerning myself in my last few entries:

I listened to about two-thirds of You Know Who's Haunted Heart CD on Rhapsody last night. It was like bathing in slightly rancid honey. She certainly has the style down and her voice sounds beautiful as it nearly always does, but she is as overindulgent in this music as she is in anything else. And while her distinctive vocal "style" (i.e. all that "simpering, whimpering" stuff, to quote "Bewitched", which receives a particularly masturbatory performance here) may lend itself more naturally to jazz, the self-indulgence is just as offensive in this music as it is in anything else she sings. At least one cannot say that she has poisoned the ears of an entire generation of jazz lovers as to how that music should be sung. I wish the same could be said of opera lovers.

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Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

I listened to the Stemme -- not bad. What do you think of Kiri's recording with Solti of the 4 last songs? What do you think of Barbara Bonney's recording with piano? Caballe's live recording is one of the worst in my opinion. Cheryl Studer's studio recording is also really bad. I haven't heard Isokoski, but it's supposed to be amazing.

July 17, 2007 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

Allow me to clarify: I know Isokoski's voice well; I don't know her 4 last songs recording.

July 17, 2007 at 8:20 PM  
Blogger Counterleben said...

Hi Andrew,

I don't know any of the recording to which you refer, but I DO have my favorites. One is Isokoski's, which is by far the best version of the last thirty years. Mattila's live one on DG is not bad, either, but (a) the studio recordings of the Orchesterlieder on that same CD are much better and (b) she has improved enormously since those were recorded; I'd love to hear her do them now. I love the two Janowitz versions, one studio one with Karajan, one live one with Haitink and the Concertgebouw from about five years earlier. I love Lisa Della Casa's versions as well: a live one from Salzburg (I believe) surfaced a couple years ago as a filler on a live Arabella on Orfeo. I also LOVE Jurinac's two versions, especially the earlier one with Fritz Busch from Sweden. It was one of the earliest performances of this cycle! Maybe even before the Schwarzkopf recording. I'm not really a fan of "Betty Blackhead," but I've been trying to give her a second chance lately. There was also an Elisabeth Söderström recording on EMI with the Welsh National Orchestra. It never made it onto CD. Even though her voice was past its best (this was around 1982 or so), she brought a vulnerability to the songs that I had not really heard before.

July 18, 2007 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

Betty Blackhead's disappoint me and maybe it is because I think I am supposed to like them, because so many people talk about them being good . . . maybe I just can't hear them with objectively.

July 18, 2007 at 5:14 PM  
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