Catriona Morison’s First Lieder Recital

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GRIEG: 6 Lieder, Op. 48. BRAHMS: Dein blaues Auge. Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer. Mädchenlied. Sapphische Ode. Alte Liebe. Junge Lieder I: Meine Liebe ist grün. J. LANG: Scheideblick. Ob ich manchmal dein gedenke. Die Schwalben. Gestern und Heute. Mignons Klage. Abschied. SCHUMANN: Sechs Gedichte von N. Lenau und Requiem, Op. 90 / Catriona Morison, mezzo-sop; Malcolm Martineau, pno / Linn CKD637

The photo on the cover of this album shows a very serious young woman staring at you with eyes that can burn into your soul. Young Scottish mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison is evidently a very serious artist, and as a woman I applaud her for NOT succumbing to the “sex symbol cheesecake” photo shoots that too often show up on CD covers, often (in my view) demeaning and debasing the serious artist whose work is being presented.

This album is being marketed as her “debut recording,” but she has already made a record: Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D, the excellent new Chandos version conducted by Sakari Oramo. It is, however, her first solo disc and her first lieder recital.

Morison has a clear, bright voice with laser-like focus. It is not a plummy mezzo at all though she clearly has a mezzo range (listen to the beginning of the second song); the timbre is attractive with just a touch of the “bitter orange” quality so often ascribed to Pauline Viardot-Garcia. In short, it is a very interesting instrument, intelligently handled and using quite a bit of nuance when the music calls for it.

And she obviously enjoys singing. You can hear it all through this recital, but particularly in the nice but somewhat lightweight Grieg songs. Her natural enthusiasm makes much more of them than most singers manage to do. Her diction is clear and understandable at all times (hallelujah!) and she has a fine technique: note the clean turns in the fourth Grieg song, “Die verschweigene Nachtigall.” Here, she shows that she can also float tones when needed.

Morison also does a fine job on the Brahms songs, bringing a certain intimacy to them that is not always done nowadays. Of course, she is ably aided throughout this recital by Malcolm Martineau, one of the finest accompanists of our day, and that helps a lot as well.

Following the Brahms songs are six by the little-known Josephine Lang (1815-1880) and, although her composing style was not highly original it was by no means negligible. In fact, if you weren’t paying attention to the track listing while the CD was playing, you’d think these were early Brahms songs, although Mignons Klage has an interesting construction. Yet a lot of the impression these songs make come from Morison’s excellent programming, putting them between Brahms and Schumann, and some of it comes from her complete absorption of the music and lyrics. She is the kind of singer who can make a strong impression even when she is singing subtly; that’s how good an artist she is.

Morison ends her recital with Schumann’s 6 Poems of Nicholas Lenau & Requiem, starting with a nice version of the “Lied eines Schmedes: and going on from there. Though these songs are generally sung by a baritone, she does an excellent job of them.

There seems to me no question that we have a new lieder star on the horizon. Catriona Morison can sing, she can interpret, and her voice is unique and distinctive. Add it all up, and you have a real winner in this disc.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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