Baroquen but Proud Testament
Akimon Azuki | 09/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kirsten Flagstad sang lots of other music beside Wagner before she was catapulted to fame in America, and later in her life she went back to Abbey Road recording studios to capture some of these diverse offerings. Although her voice may have changed somewhat, it was still a glorious and powerfully moving instrument.
I got this "Testament" CD without really bothering to check what's on it- for me, Flagstad could sing the microwave manual backwards, set to music from South Park: The Movie and it would still sound great- but I had to rub my eyes when I saw the track listing. This is what we have: Handel's "Dank sei dir, Herr", "Ombra Mai Fu", "I know that my Redeemer liveth" from Messiah, then Bach's "Erbarme dich, mein Gott", Purcell's "Thy hand, Belinda... When I am laid in earth" plus Gluck's " Che faro senza Euridice." In other words, real Baroque extravaganza! Then apparently the producer slapped himself on the head and cried "Hojotoho! What about Wagner" and hastily attached two pieces from Die Walkure ("Siegmund! Sieh' auf mich!") and Tristan und Isolde ("O sink' hernieder")- almost 40 minutes long in total. Kirsten is paired with tenor Set Svanholm as Siegmund/Tristab, and contralto Constance Shacklock as Brangane; these pieces are great, but they are very different from the rest of the CD, in style and sound. That Flagstad was magnificent in Wagner is a well-known fact, so there's no need to elaborate on these two selections.
How about Flagstad going for Baroque? It's very - strange. Her voice, gently scooped like a wave, powerful, solemn and dark is not exactly best fit for most of these pieces. The weight of her voice makes negotiating the runs somewhat tricky- she pulls it off by sheer will. And if you ever wondered what a very mournful Ombra Mai Fu would sound like- you got it here. But somehow she manages to put her stamp on this music and make it very moving and, in case of Dido's Lament, pitch perfect in the sad, truly lamenting mood, and as always, unbelievably beautiful sound. Her English, by the way, is very clear, actually more so than in case of many Baroque singers I heard.
The orchestra in this recording is a motley bunch- I think they use a Mood harpsichord of sorts, and there are moments when the Flagstad oceanliner drags them down; the recorded sound is strong but fairly hissy. Still, if you want to hear Flagstad sing something different from the usual Wagner battle cry and Liebestod- this is the place. Oh, and you do get some great Wagner while you're at it! A strange but beautiful testament."