Lustrous Singing in Cherished Songs
Terry Serres | Minneapolis, MN United States | 04/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With hundreds of Schubert recitals in my collection, I impulsively buy new releases while knowing that my standards are impossibly high. How does Ms. Fleming's refulgent tone serve these songs? Very well indeed, it turns out. Perhaps the most succinct recommendation I can make is that the disk made me want to hear Fleming in more Schubert, with particular songs in mind! Let's hope this isn't merely her "obligatory Schubert album." Among big voices, her stature in this repertory is close to Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price and Margaret Price in interpretive finesse; and for sheer beauty she is unsurpassed. While Lied is a more intimate art form, Schubert himself was a connoisseur of voices, and how he would have relished the lushness in which Fleming bathes these songs.
One thing I notice the more I hear Ms. Fleming is that she's got jazz in her system - it's not constant but you do feel a tug with the accents and rhythms and phrasing, and the occasional adventurous line break. Eschenbach himself shares in that sensibility. It's not intrusive, like she's trying to make something new of well-worn material - it's part of her style. The only song where the rhythmic play takes a wrong turn is in "Auf dem Wasser zu singen," where it sounds like Fleming and Eschenbach got into different boats, and it's the one place where her big voice detracted from the mood of the song, which should be contemplative here.
She opens with "Heidenroslein" and "Die Forelle," delivering them with obvious affection and a storyteller's ease. But it was the next song, "An die Nachtigall," that got my respect. Her endearing presentation of the simple melody makes this one of the best versions on disk. "Im Fruehling" has Fleming's name all over it, and she doesn't disappoint, although a somewhat somber, steady beginning (lightening up in the third stanza) seemed to anticipate the later key change to minor a little early.
Singer and accompanist bring the drama of "Die junge Nonne" to life with impressive teamwork. "Nacht und Traume" is a case study in breath control (though she doesn't take the first line in a single breath as Felicity Lott does). Fleming was wise to milk "Ave Maria" for all its worth - to rescue this overdone song from triteness, she upped the ante as only a singer of her gifts could. She lavishes a full eight minutes on her heart-melting interpretation. However, I wasn't so thrilled when the next song, "Fruehlingsglaube" was also taken at a very deliberate tempo. Despite her intensity and admirable word-pointing, the reverie needed a little elan. "Du bist die Ruh" lagged not at all, and it is a performance of sheer magic from beginning to quietly rapturous end.
As for the remaining songs, her "Gretchen" is not among the greatest, but an arresting interpretation nonetheless. After the halt in mid-song, she quickens to a frenzied finish that is something of a mini-mad scene. In "Tod und das Madchen" she bravely attempts the low alternate on the final note but doesn't have Norman's depth. The comic piece that ends the recital is delightfully characterized, but I do miss an elusive tonal nuance that Ameling found at key moments.
To be taken seriously as a Schubertian these days, it seems, singers must add to the program one of the composer's daunting, sometimes unwieldy, ballads. Not one to back down from a challenge, Fleming gives us the 15-minute "Viola." And it is a miracle - she combines narrative control, sustained beauty, and emotional depth.
Fleming hasn't the same feel for lieder as singers who devote the better part of their career to this "homely stepsister of opera." But the handful of weaknesses on this disk are outweighed by the many moments of astonishing perfection that I wouldn't want to miss. Fleming is one of those singers, like Lott, who must be heard in person to be fully appreciated. It's nice to have recordings like this to tide us over.
Could one expect anything less?
jhorro | VA | 04/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There is nothing wrong with Fleming's Schubert - it is worth all the stars in the sky for the control of phrasing and the ability to bring the voice to a faint whisper. The recording is up to Decca's standard and Eschenbach is an understanding partner as so often he has been in the past. Fleming's creamy sound can easily be taken for granted in my opinion and it is not hard to imagine stronger characterizations, but her fans will find no need for disappointment."
jhorro | 06/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It has a lovely collection of very sweet songs. I loved 'Im Fruling', 'An die nachtigall', 'Nacht and Traume','Du Bist di Ruh', and 'Viola'. She sings them at very "twinkly" high register,sort of matching the high keys of the piano.The vibratos are very small and closed, like little flutters.
She can give her voice a delicate, silvery quality and bring her voice to faint whisper and still maintain a a full, rich sound."