A Mixed Bag, and an Uneasy Partnership between Kate Royal an
Terry Serres | Minneapolis, MN United States | 12/22/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I really struggled on how to rate this album -- I was loathe to penalize this effort merely on account of the hype surrounding Kate Royal. But, given her limited participation here, even the most avid of her fans would be unlikely to rate it above 3.5 stars, so I am content with the fairness of my 3.
First off, this is *not* a Kate Royal album. She performs on only 12 of the 31 tracks. Granted, she is accorded the one masterpiece in this assemblage: the Op. 39 (Eichendorff) Liederkries. This is not a narrative song cycle but, as the title implies, a garland of song inhabited by an air of mystery and shadowy stillness. Notable exponents in the past have included Ameling, Baker, Crespin, Lipovsek, Norman, Shirai, Bär, and many others. Kate Royal's voice doesn't seem that interesting to me -- as recorded here at least it sounds thin and of limited range, screechy at the top and uncomfortable at the bottom. What she does possess is refined and uncommonly mature expressive abilities.
To my sensitivities, the Liederkreis performance enshrined here has some of Graham Johnson's most poorly judged accompaniment. His support of Royal here is wan and sluggish, lacking in lustre and interpretive power. I understand where he may have been going with this approach: the mystery of the poetry and music invites stillness, understatement, even reticence. But he goes too far; his playing leaves large pockets of dead air. Admittedly, Royal's talents go far in filling the interpretive void. It's hard to tell what's going on here -- which performer is compensating for the other's weaknesses? -- but it is not a satisfying partnership. Still, the interpretation remains interesting without brushing greatness. My impression is that its shortcomings lie more with the accompanist than with the singer.
The mood set by the Liederkreis is sustained by the three melodramas (spoken poetry to piano accompaniment) that follow. Then come three characterful pieces allotted to a refined ensemble of young singers (including some peculiar percussional obbligato on the third piece, a gypsy song for chorus). Three "orphaned" pieces follow, their unprepossessing status certainly confirmed by the anonymous solo voices assigned to them from the ensemble. Next we have two sets of duets performed by the veteran duo of Felicity Lott and Ann Murray. Concluding the recital is another ensemble piece set to one of Schumann's own poems, written to accompany the gift of a piano to Clara after he had been committed to an asylum.
Given the odd mixture of sources and performers, the program does hang together fairly well; even if, after the Liederkreis, the rest of the album feels fairly insubstantial.
Johnson's lack of involvement in the Liederkreis luckily doesn't extend to the rest of the album. The duets and ensembles are typical Biedermeier effusion, fragrant with romanticism but not particularly memorable (aside from the three pieces performed by the young ensemble in mid-program). All the same, it is enjoyable to welcome back Lott and Murray.
Even though Royal's performance is the disk's highlight, I would discourage buyers who are on board solely to check her out. It's certainly an interesting performance but an uneasy alliance of singer, accompanist, and composer. Lieder enthusiasts will find Royal little more than a curiosity at this stage. Voice fanciers will not be won over to Lieder, that homely stepsister of opera, for its homeliness is rather confirmed by this release. And Royal fans will find too little here to justify the purchase. This narrows the pool of potential buyers to those attracted by the sheer oddity of the assorted pieces, and those (like me, apparently) hell-bent on "collecting the whole set.""
Greater Interpretive Vision And Vocal Communication Needed!
Raymond Vacchino | Toronto, ON. Canada | 01/18/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Unfortunately the performances given on this recording tend to be missing the refined musicality one would expect from soprano Kate Royal. In general the overall singing is lacking the power to project the words with immediacy and conviction. Schumann selected texts by Goethe, Byron, Heine and Joseph von Eichendorff making them into song cycles. Kate Royal chose the popular cycle Liederkreis Op.39 to start with dubbed by the composer "my most romantic music ever". Mondnacht and Schone Fremade, are songs of the night. Royal is inconsistent in her ability to create the varying moods and atmospheres of passion, intimacy and humanity in both, which are superbly conveyed by soprano Lois Marshall in her recording. Despite valid attempts, the voice tends to lack the necessary purity, charm and simplicity. In the upper range Royal allows the voice to become thin instead of giving greater support especially on softer notes. As well, pianist Graham Johnson needs to play a more supportive role, something that is absolutely essential in lieder and would provide Royal opportunities to shape the exceptionally long phrases more seamlessly, allow them to linger here and there, make use of tonal inflections and nuances, an attribute she magnificently possesses. With greater team work in the other songs of this cycle, the conveying of murmuring brooks, restling treetops, moonlit fields and singing nightingales would become more refreshingly consistent than they already are. The remainder of the recording does offer duo singing that effectively provides moments of enthusiasm and exciting characterisations in Schumann's style. Along with other younger singers providing moments of vocal drama and revelation the recording is notable for its overall fleetness and light-hearted approach. Despite my feeling that there is need for more beautifully and lyrically shaped phrases, greater collaboration between Royal and Johnson to keep the underlying communication unbroken, there are indeed comprehensive, thoughtful and finely detailed ideas making this disc worthwhile having.
I would suggest however, that if you are just beginning to start adding recordings of Schumann's song cycles to your music library, that you listen to several others first. Other artists to consider; Elly Ameling, Renee Fleming, Jessye Norman, Lois Marshall, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Author: Raymond Vacchino M.Mus. A.Mus. L.R.S.M. Licentiate (honorary)"