London’s and Rysanek’s Fascinating “Dutchman”

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WAGNER: Der fliegende Holländer / Leonie Rysanek, sop (Senta); Res Fischer, mezzo (Mary); George London, bass-bar (Dutchman); Fritz Uhl, ten (Erik); Josef Greindl, bass (Daland); Georg Paskuda, ten (Steersman); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Wolfgang Sawallisch, cond / Orfeo d’Or C 936 1821 (live: Bayreuth, August 5, 1959)

When I was still a teenager, I recall listening, in my local library, to the 1955 live Decca recording of this opera with Astrid Varnay, Hermann Uhde, Josef Traxel and Ludwig Weber, conducted by Josef Keilberth, and I thought it was just the berries. It made such a deep impression on me that I never thought I’d hear a better performance in my life, and for years it was my favorite recording until I stumbled upon the early-1980s Philips recording. That version, also a live performance from Bayreuth, had an even more stunning Senta in Lisbeth Balslev (what on earth ever happened to her?), a great if occasionally unsteady Dutchman in Simon Estes, Robert Schunk’s passionate Erik, Matti Salminen’s sumptuously-sung Daland, and the taut, dynamic conducting of one Woldemar Nelsson (and what on earth happened to him?), and the Keilberth recording was gently nudged to the side, nevermore to be listened to.

Indeed, my loyalty to the Nelsson performance is such that, even with Estes’ occasional fluttery tone (he did bring the voice into better focus once he warmed up), I’ve come to think of it as the sina qua non of Holländer recordings, thus when I first saw this one going by in the Naxos catalog, I stopped only long enough to notice that the great George London was the Dutchman but then decided not to review it because it was, after all, in mono.

My mistake.

Next to the Nelsson version, this is clearly the most interesting and dynamic Dutchman ever released. One’s ears quickly adjust to the mono sound, in part because the unusual Bayeruth hall resonance makes up for it, although I do think that the recording needs to be brightened on the top end (neither Rysanek’s exciting high register nor the strings have sufficient “bite” the way it was processed here, but a decent audio editor will fix that for you). But it’s the singing and acting that will rivet your attention and hold it there.

Indeed, this performance made such a deep impression that, two years later, Decca-London recorded the opera commercially with the two main principals, substituting Giorgio Tozzi as Daland, Karl Liebl as Erik, Rosalind Elias as Mary and Richard Lewis as the Steersman, conducted by Antal Doráti. But gremlins were at work: Rysanek was in poor voice, wobbling and going flat (always a danger for her since her earliest years…Wilhelm Furtwängler refused to use her as Leonore or Sieglinde because he was worried that she’d sing flat) and London was recorded in a back bathroom somewhere.

In this performance, everything seemed to go right. Everyone except Res Fischer, as Mary, was in very good voice, the two principals exceptionally so. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Fritz Uhl was a much better Erik, both vocally and interpretively, than Robert Schunk in the Nelsson performance. Some European reviewers have had little good to say of London’s Dutchman, finding him exciting vocally but not penetrating the

London Dutchman

London as the Dutchman

character. I would say that, while it is true that he doesn’t give us a world-weary Dutchman, he presents a character who is cynical and bitter, who yearns for death but doesn’t know how to bring it on himself, and who thus in turn takes out this bitterness on all those around him. In actuality, this is a more plausible interpretation when one considers how, later on, the Dutchman becomes cynical when he sees Senta with Erik and assumes that she will not keep her promise to join him. Moreover, he received glowing reviews from the German press at the time, e.g., “compellingly demonic in his singing and acting…George London…plays the character with the intelligence for which he is so often praised: he was an incarnation of the outcast, of inner restlessness (Badische Zeitung),” or that he remained “singularly without pathos…a kind of principled unapproachability (Kölnische Rundschau).”

Greindl Daland

Greindl as Daland

Josef Greindl also came in for criticism due to his oddly unsteady voice production. It was never a full-blown wobble, he had it as far back as 1944 and it never really got much worse, but it will upset those who like their Wagner bass voices firm and solid (although, in the age of Kwangchul Youn, Greindl sounds like Kurt Moll). I find him a very interesting Daland, in fact more interesting dramatically than Salminen in the Nelsson recording—possibly because Wieland Wagner insisted that he present himself as a bit of a hard-drinking rogue, not the epitome of naval morality he is usually shown to be.

Rysanek Senta

Rysanek as Senta

But the one thing everyone agrees on is that Rysanek, in this performance, is the finest Senta of all time. One thing that surprised me was the quiet way she began singing her ballad “Traft ihr das Schiff” and, even more surprising, the way she floated her soft high notes ã la Zinka Milanov. I didn’t know she had that in her, although in an interview, Rysanek was most proud of the fact that she was the “slimmest Senta around.” Like Lisbeth Balslev, Rysanek presents a Senta who is divorced from reality, a bit touched in the head, and fixated on “redeeming” the Dutchman. The difference is that Balslev sounds obviously crazy from her first utterance, whereas Rysanek almost seems to be living in a world of dreams, which results in her gentler reading of the words.

This is not the first release of this recording. Melodram first put it out on LPs (MEL-390) many moons ago, followed by a Charles Handelman cassette tape. Then came the CD issues: Melodram MEL-26101 (2004), Premiere Opera CDNO 1579 (2004) and Opera d’Oro OPD 7030 (2006). Like most of the Orfeo d’Or issues, this is its first “official” release, taken from the house master tapes and signed off by a member of the Wagner family (Katharina Wagner). Comparing it to the Opera d’Oro release, the sound is marginally clearer, although it definitely needs a treble boost of about 1.7 db to offset the top-range dullness.

And excellent performance, then. Whether it’s one for the ages depends, mostly, on your acceptance of London’s Dutchman. Everyone else is outstanding, and the performance is utterly fascinating.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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The Turning Point Ensemble Opens a Curio Box

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CURIO BOX / HINDEMITH: Kammermusik.* BERIO: Folk Songs for Mezzo-soprano & 7 Instruments. # UNDERHILL: Cello Concerto* / *Ariel Barnes, cel; #Fides Krucker, mezzo-sop; Turning Point Ensemble / Orlando 0037

Following on the heels of the disc just reviewed (American Vistas by the Concordia String Trio) is this fascinating disc by the Canadian-based Turning Point Ensemble. They are a 17-piece chamber orchestra headed up by conductor and composer Owen Underhill, founded in 2002 in Vancouver. Their component members are violinist Mary Sokol Brown, violist Marcus Takizawa, cellists Ariel Barnes and Stefan Hintersteininger, bassist David Brown, trumpeter Al Cannon, trombonist Jeremy Berkman, French hornist Micajah Sturgess, flautist Brenda Fedoruk, oboist David Owen, clarinetists AK Coope and François Houle, bassoonist Ingrid Chang, harpists Heidi Krutzen and Janelle Nadeau, and percussionists Vern Griffiths and Aaron McDonald. Cellist Barnes is the soloist in both the Hindemith and Underhill works on this set.

They are clearly an enthusiastic young group of musicians who play with a lean tone and crisp, clean style, which is particularly apropos to the Hindemith work. The music simply sparkles in their expert hands (and lips), emerging in all its neoclassic glory, and their tight, incisive chords remind one of the way a technical master such as Rodziński would have conducted this music. Barnes’ cello tone, too, is lean and precise, eschewing the more luscious tone of those who specialize in Romantic-era music. To a certain extent, this works against him in the slow third movement, “Sehr ruhige und gemessen schreitende Viertel,” yet his legato is excellent enough to at least suggest the “quiet, measured walking quarter notes” that Hindemith intended. Interestingly, violinist Brown plays here with a nice vibrato, which I liked very much and which I think Hindemith would have appreciated as well. (He was, after all, one of the greatest violists of his day, and knew the violin and cello intimately as well.)

Berio’s folk song arrangements run the gamut from American to Jewish, French, Italian, Azerbaijan and three other cultures. They were written, of course, for his wife at the time, mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian, and in the lines notes Fides Krucker tells of her utter fascination with Berberian’s performance and how she “spent hours listening to her transform the shape of her mouth, adjust her resonators, and widen or narrow her airflow as she recreated the sound of eight different vocal cultures.” Krucker does a splendid job on them, using her very pretty mezzo voice and, better yet, perfect diction (listen up, operatic mezzos! Her enunciation is as clear as a bell!) to limn the music with just the right feel in every piece. I was particularly impressed by Berio’s arrangement of “I Wonder As I Wander,” which is highly imaginative and surely the finest version of this song I’ve ever heard. Kruecker really gets into her work here, doing a fantastic job on the “Azerbaijan Love Song” as well on all the others.

We then reach Underhill’s Cello Concerto, subtitled “The Curio Box.” It’s a well-written piece in the usual modern style of today: lyric themes stretched across biting, acerbic, bitonal background figures. What gives the first movement distinction is the lovely, elegiac melody he created for the cello, a haunting theme that will surely appeal even to the tonally-biased. It is also well-developed music, with Underwood using a variant of the cello theme for the oboe and allowing the soloist to stretch out in an extemporé fashion before the chamber orchestra returns to play syncopated figures that bounce around. As Underhill puts it in the liner notes, “The idea of the [Chinese] curio box seemed to me quite musical in the way that musical memory often contains music of different places, timeperiods, and expres­sions.” Underhill likewise plays with rhythms and motives in the second movement, “The Impossible Return,” using both the opening melody and end of the first movement in a new way, featuring the solo cellist. The third movement, “Assemblage,” puts pieces of the first two movements together in a sort of crazy-house manner. It’s a fascinating piece.

In toto, then, an excellent CD of well-chosen music, well-performed and holding the listener’s attention.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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The Concordia Trio Explores American Vistas

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AMERICAN VISTAS / PISTON: 3 Counterpoints. HOVHANESS: Trio, Op. 201. LEWIS: Berceuse. HARBISDON: Trio Sonata. COWELL: 7 Paragraphs. COLSON: String Trio No. 1, “Zazen” / Concordia String Trio / Centaur CRC 3625

The Concordia String Trio, comprised of violinist Marcia Henry Liebenow, violist Leslie Perna and cellist Karen Becker, here tackles a program of 20th and 21st-century American composers. The two outliers in this list are Leonard Mark Lewis and David Colson, who I did not previously know.

Piston’s 3 Counterpoints are not as well known as his orchestral music, but they are typically fine works by this relatively neglected American composer. Lively and energetic, the music teeters on the brink of atonality but never quite arrives there; it is, more often, bitonal, yet one can almost always sense the underlying tonal base. Despite the somewhat over-ambient sound, I was impressed by the trio’s combination of warmth and incisive rhythms. These surprisingly late works, dating from 1973, still retain the stamp of Piston’s style; the middle piece is an “adagio sereno” sandwiched between two fast movements, and has a particularly yearning theme.

The Hovhaness Trio, from 1962, is particularly interesting in that it uses microtones in the manner of Julián Carrillo and Harry Partch. A strange piece, the opening features the violin and cello playing pizzicato figures while the viola slithers around chromatically, then they all sort of get into the spirit before returning to the format of the opening. The second movement, an “Allegro,” is more conventional in harmony, again featuring pizzicato scrambling by the violin and cello and allowing the viola to play the theme statement—but it’s very short, and in the final movement, “Lento,” we return to microtonalism.

Interestingly, Lewis’ Berceuse is much in the same vein; at first, I almost thought it was a fourth movement of the Hovhaness Trio, except that Lewis veers back towards tonality, thus this score opens with chromatic sliding but does not dwell in it. Most of the music is indeed a berceuse in the true sense of the word.

By contrast, John Harbison’s Trio Sonata is terse and to the point; the themes barely have time enough to establish themselves and develop a little before the music is over (the entire four-movement piece lasts only 4:47). Even more surprising, to me, was the first of the 7 Paragraphs of Henry Cowell, which sounded quite Romantic. The remainder of the pieces are in his normal atonal or bitonal style.

I was particularly struck by David Colson’s highly imaginative String Trio No. 1, subtitled “Zazen.” He, too, uses bitonality, but does so in a very dynamic manner, creating tension via the intensity of the string bowing and his subtle use of dynamics on sustained tones. The third movement, which is the busiest in terms of rhythmic movement and harmonic development, bears the odd title “The dolls in the window are doing perfect zazen but their eyes are not open.” In the fourth, “A forest of clouds,” Colson also introduces some rhythmic movement but at a much slower pace. Curiously, the last movement, titled “Stand still, stand still,” is the edgiest and most intense movement, indicating the constant busyness of one’s mind when one is trying to do perfect meditation.

All in all, this is one of the finest albums of out-of-repertoire string music I’ve heard in a long time. The Concordia Trio should be commended for their desire to play music that is different from the usual Romantic blather that one hears over and over and over again. A real gem!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Schumann’s String Quartets in a New Recording

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SCHUMANN: String Quartets Nos. 1-3 / Engegård Quartet / Bis 2361 (SACD)

For better or worse, I’ve somehow managed not to have ever heard these string quartets before. Probably, I think, because Schumann was so much better known as a composer for the piano, and songs, and symphonies, they just somehow missed my radar. I’ve noticed that the recordings of these works by the Ying, Gringolts and Doric Quartets have garnered the most critical acclaim, but I’m going to do something unusual for me. I’m just going to review this disc without making comparisons with the others.

To begin with, the Engegård Quartet follows all of Schumann’s metronome markings faithfully. They also observe all of the little crescendo-decrescendo markings, the sforzandi and accents. By doing so, they play the music with the right feel and flow, and they also have a warm tone which works extremely well in this music.

Some nitpickers have complained that the string writing is very “pianistic.” Well, I would think that would stand to reason considering Schumann’s deep, lifetime involvement with that instrument, but so what? More to the point, Schumann also wrote these quartets rather like small symphonies, i.e., with the first violin playing the top line while the others fill the textures and rhythmic figures in behind it, rather than having the four instruments play against each other as in the mature quartets of Beethoven. Yet it is the overall effect of the music that matters, not the form so much. Schubert’s Grand Duo for two pianos is written orchestrally, but it’s still great music.

The important thing here is that it is mature Schumann, meaning that it is well-written and surprising in its shifts of themes and moods. Some musicians, such as the great cellist Steven Isserlis, feel that Schumann’s music “breaks your heart,” but I find that is only true in some works, particularly his great song cycle Dichterliebe, although I admit that the slow movements in these quartets are very heartfelt indeed. Most of the time, for me, the attraction of Schumann is that he always thought outside the box. His music is continually full of surprises, harmonic and well as thematic, and that is what keeps me coming back to him over and over again. It was also what separated his music from that of his wife, Clara, a good composer but one whose music was far more predictable.

As to a rating of the interpretations, all I can say is that the Engegård Quartet plays this music with a great deal of feeling—not surprising, considering all of the emotional guideposts put into the scores by the composer. String quartets nowadays are all so good for the most part that trying to place one above the other in any given repertoire is like splitting hairs, although some of them seem to be especially good in specific repertoire, for instance the Alexander String Quartet in Mozart and Beethoven. Engegård certainly plays the fast movements with considerable energy. I’d be very hard-pressed, following the scores along with them, to imagine better interpretations than these. They miss nothing in terms of expressive content.

To be honest, I didn’t care much for the second quartet. It’s good, but not great music. The third quartet, however, was much more interesting to me—not, for instance, the surprising fast, agitated passages in the second movement—and it, too, is played beautifully—and according to score—by this quartet.

Thus I would, personally, rate this as an outstanding recording of these works. Are they better than the Ying, Gringolts or Doric Quartets? You be the judge. I’d give this set five fish in the Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Satoko Fujii & Joe Fonda Play Hip Tunes

 

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MIZU / FUJII-FONDA: Rik Bevernage. Long Journey. Mizu / Satoko Fujii, pno; Joe Fonda, bs/fl / Long Song Records (no number)

Unlike other reviewers, I had not heard Fujii and Fonda’s previous album, Duet, but I had heard her on a fascinating album with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith which deeply impressed me. To begin with, the title of this review is meant to be a bit humorous, since although free jazz can indeed be called “hip,” the music produced can scarcely be referred to as “tunes.” Fujii studied with Paul Bley, one of the pioneers of free jazz piano back in the 1960s, while Fonda played from 1984 to 1999 with composer-improviser Anthony Braxton. The music on this CD evolved during a 2017 four-city European tour.

Free jazz at its best simply comes from throwing out a few notes and chords, then exploring them together. It very seldom works with groups larger than a quartet or quintet; Ornette Coleman’s famous “double quartet” recording, titled simply Free Jazz, ended up being quite confused-sounding in places because the two quartets were operating not in tandem with each other but independently (though there were a few really good moments in it). On the opening track, Rik Bevernage, named after the late Belgian concert producer and label owner, the duo shows just how this method of operation works. Both musicians are bold enough to be able to work in an atonal setting, although, to my ears, it is the bassist who “grounds” the music more in tonality by emphasizing specific notes and working around them as a foil to Fujii’s more atonal style. Some of her single-line runs put me in mind of Lennie Tristano at his most advanced, which is not a bad thing. What amazed me was that Fujii never got lost in her work, i.e., she actually develops her themes, building in tension before releasing it; even her wildest keyboard arpeggios and runs fit into an overall scheme. The music, naturally, is difficult to describe in words because what they are doing goes beyond language, but they’re definitely on each others’ wavelength and manage to complement each other while playing very diverse lines. As a bassist-improviser, Fonda seemed to me influenced strongly by the late Charlie Haden, among others. He has a very clear bass tone, making his notes ring out with crystalline purity. As the track progresses, Fonda uses a variety of devices: bowing, sometimes on the edge of the strings to produce an edgier sound, whistle tones, etc. to vary his approach.

Much the same approach is taken in the following two tracks although, ironically, Long Journey isn’t nearly as long a musical journey as the opener, which runs close to a half-hour. Here, Fujii plays mostly rhythmic figures, chorded and solo, while it is Fonda who goes a bit more out on a limb. The title track, Mizu, is by far the most impressionistic, with Fujii playing her piano strings in such a manner that it almost sounds like a gamelan. It is also the most full of effects, mostly rhythmic, without much structure, although Fujii tries to develop what little material there is at the keyboard. The tension builds via a long crescendo, to which Fonda adds some shouts. Fonda then, surprisingly, switches to flute while the pianist sprinkles some chords around his improvised melody.

This music is quite a trip, one well worth taking. It is music of tremendous imagination and power. Not a touch of “soft jazz” or “ambient jazz” in sight!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Cambreling Explores Debussy

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DEBUSSY: Images pour orchestre. Danses pour harp et orchestre. La Mer / SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Sylvain Cambreling, cond / SWR Music 19508CD

Sylvain Cambreling, who was chief conductor of the SWR Sinfonieorchester from 1999 to 2011, is actually two different musicians: the one who made a specialty of conducting the updated edition of Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann during the 1980s at excruciatingly slow tempi (for whatever reason, never explained) and the much more outstanding conductor of the last 20 years. Why or how he changed his aesthetic from stodgy and uninteresting to brisk and lively, I have no idea, but these recordings, made in 2001 and 2004, are clearly among his better ones.

This album starts out with a particularly atmospheric reading of “Gigues,” the first part of the Images pour orchestre, and builds from there. As in his superb set of the complete orchestral music of Olivier Messiaen, Cambreling shows a fine grasp of structure and brings out a considerable amount of detail in these scores. Indeed, in the incisiveness of his rhythmic attacks, passionate playing and fairly quick tempi, his conducting here resembles the work of such past conductors as Charles Munch, Artur Rodziński and Arturo Toscanini, for whom “Ibéria” from the Images was a staple of his repertoire. I was also amazed by the way this orchestra, which also sounded lean but played with a more Germanic feeling under Michael Gielen, takes on a more French character in this repertoire. Indeed, I found his reading of “Ibéria” to be somewhat of a cross between Munch and Toscanini, having a more Gallic sound quality but only a bit less crispness and energy of the Italian conductor. The middle section, “Les parfums de la nuit,” is played with a surprisingly “snaky” sound that I can’t recall any other conductor replicating. He also does an outstanding job on the “Rondes de printemps,” and if the Danses for harp and string orchestra may seem a little feathery, it is still an interesting reading.

Although I am not quite prepared to put Cambreling’s interpretation of La Mer on the same high pedestal as Bernard Haitink’s early version with the Concertgebouw (surely the finest stereo recording of this work ever made), it is a surprisingly jaunty version. The opening movement, taken at Toscanini’s earlier, faster tempo (with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra) is much jauntier in feeling, sounding like the seaside on a happy summer’s day. This same feeling carries over to the “Play of the waves,” and appropriately so in this case. By contrast, the “Dialogue of the wind and the sea” is quite menacing, indeed. In all, then, a very unique version of this magnificent symphony and, again, the orchestral detail is exquisite.

Quite a pleasant surprise, then; surely one of the most interesting Debussy CDs I’ve heard in a long time!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Kevin Short’s Dark Bass Shines in New Recital

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MEPHISTOPHELES & OTHER BAD GUYS / GOUNOD: Faust: Le veau d’or; Vous qui faites l’endormie. BOITO: Mephistopheles: Son lo Spirito; Ecco il mondo. BEETHOVEN: Song of the Flea (orch. Shostakovich). Fidelio: Ha! Welch ein Augenblick!* MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden; O, wie will ich triumphieren. WEBER: Der Freischütz: Schweig, schweig, damit dich niemand. OFFENACH: Les contes d’Hoffmann: Dans le roles d’amoureux langoureux; Scintille diamant. VERDI: I Lombardi: Sciagurata! Hai tu credeto. BERLIOZ: La damnation de Faust: Voici des roses; Devant la maison. GETTY: Mephistopheles to Faust. MUSSORGSKY: Song of the Flea (orch. Stravinsky). STRAVINSKY: The Rake’s Progress: I burn, I freeze! MEYERBEER: Robert le Diable: Nonnes, qui reposez. WAGNER: Das Rheingold: Bin ich nun frei? / Kevin Short, bass-bar; *Opéra de Marseille Male Chorus; Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris; Lawrence Foster, cond / Pentatone Classics PTC 5186 585

A great deal of information is given on Kevin Short’s background, the competition prizes he has won, the venues he has sung in and the conservatories he studied at, yet his principal voice teachers (except for his very first, Betty Ridgeway) are nowhere mentioned. This is a pity, because a voice this solid in production—not the slightest hint of unsteadiness—is so rare nowadays, especially among singers of his range, that had this teachers been mentioned  I’d urge all of his wobble-sounding bass and baritone brethren to go running to them forthwith. And is this ever a dark-sounding voice! Short is perfect for roles of this type because he sounds, no joke, like an American version of Gustav Neidlinger with a touch of Jerome Hines (although, judging from the microphone placement, it doesn’t seem to be as huge of a voice as Hines’ was—but few are).

I was a bit disappointed, however, by some of the conducting in this set, particularly in “Le veau d’or,” where Lawrence Foster takes it at a rather slow pace—and, worse yet, introduces the old-fashioned ritard in the middle of the aria that singers like Pol Plançon and Marcel Journet used to do. Foster is also just a shade slow in Boito’s “Son lo spirito.” But no matter: Short makes you sit up and take notice. It’s just that good of a voice. His only deficiency is the lack of a trill, most noticeable in Gounod’s “ Vous qui faites l’endormie.” But no matter; someone (Pentatone, perhaps?) should record a complete Mephistopheles with Short, tenor AJ Glueckert and a soprano like Juliane Banse or Maria Bengtsson forthwith (possibly with a conductor like Marc Albrecht).

As for interpretation, he needs a little work. He sounds appropriately sinister in everything he sings, but it’s a generic sort of sinister, like a loving father who puts on a scowl and grumpily tells his son to eat his Brussels sprouts. Of course, nearly every aria in this collection is an over-the-top snarl-fest, and Lord knows that the late Boris Christoff also gave fairly generic readings of this kind of music, too. Short does modify his tone somewhat in “Ecco il mondo,” to good effect, and in an aria like Beethoven’s “Ha! Welch ein Augenblick,” subtlety goes out the window anyway. And he’s certainly a terrific Don Pizarro and Lindorf/Dappertutto. His Osmin in Mozart’s Abduction put me in mind of the way Gottlob Frick sang it (there’s another bass he somewhat resembles), except that “Wer ein Liebchen” seemed to me a bit too much shouted. Foster also conducts “O wie will ich Triumphieren” too slowly, as Beecham did, although Short does interpret this with appropriate subtlety and even more appropriate low notes, which many a bass simply cannot reach.

The two surprises in this collection, for me, were Beethoven’s Song of the Flea, a piece I didn’t even know he had written, and, of course, Gordon Getty’s song Mephistopheles to Faust, which is probably a fairly new piece anyway. Pagano’s aria from I Lombardi is also a piece not often heard, mostly because so much of the opera is sort of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other except for the most magnificent trio Verdi ever wrote. Short tries his best to soften his tone for Berlioz’ “Voici des roses,” but really should work on that a bit…it’s still somewhat too loud, though gloriously sung. (Listen to Mack Harrell in the famous broadcast with Toscanini or Gabriel Bacquier in the EMI studio recording with Prêtre for an example of what I mean.) By contrast, “Devant la maison” is just perfect (though, again, just a shade too slow). The Getty piece is superb—what a wonderful composer he is!—and Short is really in his element here, possibly because he is also singing in his native language. He also has some fun with Mussorgsky’s Song of the Flea. The last track, Alberich’s curse from Das Rheingold, reminds us once again of Short’s tonal resemblance to Neidlinger, the most famous Alberich of his day. It’s a very outward, angry reading of the curse. I would suggest that Short listen to Eduard Habich, the greatest Alberich of the past, as an example of how one can sing these words with more meaning.

No two ways about it, though: Kevin Short has the kind of voice that makes you sit up and take notice. A little coaching in subtlety, and he’d be fantastic as Bluebeard in Bartók’s opera, too. This is a terrific recital by any measurement.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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