Veronica Cangemi — Italia 1600 Argentina 1900
I saw Veronica as Dalinda in SF Opera's Ariodante, and while I didn't fall head over heels for her, I was intrigued enough to want this CD when it appeared before me. Rightly so. It's a beautiful disc. And an unusual programme: rarities and hits from Handel, Porpora, Monteverdi et al, punctuated with selections by Piazzolla and Villa-Lobos. Unified by the dreamy playing of Una Stella Ensemble, they sit side-by-side with seductive ease. Veronica is pretty magical herself, flying through mindboggling coloratura (not just Handel, but also Broschi, with the OTT acrobatics designed for his brother, Farinelli) before settling into sweet and lyrical selections with not a hair out of place. Her subtle and imaginative ornamentation in "Lascia ch'io pianga" gives an old chestnut new life, and her "Bachianas brasilieras" — while no-one will replace Kathy in my heart — is gorgeous.
Susan Graham — Un frisson français
I've been terribly slow on the uptake with Susan. Not that I've ever disliked her (I mean, you couldn't, could you?) but this is the first CD of hers I've actually owned, though I have borrowed and given away a few in the past. I didn't even pay for this one, as it happens, but that's beside the point. I would have, if required. This is another one with a slightly out of the ordinary programme — she covers a century of French song in 22 tracks, with just one song per composer. Wow. In some ways it's a little frustrating: I'd happily listen to her sing a lot more Poulenc, or Gounod, or Hahn (at least the last is remediable). On the other hand, variety is the spice of life, and Susan is obviously having fantastic time with such diverse repertoire. Excellent from start to finish, but my particular favourite is the vocal (!) setting of Saint-Saens' "Danse macabre". I never knew such a thing existed. I'm very glad it does.
Handel: Alcina — Sutherland/Wunderlich/ Leitner
I understand people in the know have known about (and been listening to) this Alcina for decades, although this is its first commercial release. Somewhere on the fringes of my brain, I think I knew this performance had taken place, but had never really thought about it. Anyway, this showed up in my shop and, not surprisingly, it's pretty special. Joan, fresh from her smash hit Covent Garden Lucias, is phenomenal. As is the beautiful, beautiful Fritz Wunderlich. Theoretically I shouldn't approve of a tenor as Ruggiero. When it's Wunderlich, theory goes to hell — he's so good in this role, I start (temporarily) wondering why you'd ever use a mezzo… And they weren't even supposed to be in it! Both were eleventh hour substitutes. That's the kind of pre-curtain announcement you want. It's a period performance, although not quite as "period" as more recent recordings. The slightly stately tempi do take a bit of getting used to, but the effort is more than worth it.
Natalie Dessay/Emmanuelle Haïm & Le Concert d'Astrée — Bach Cantatas
Some people will tell you Natalie shouldn't sing Bach. Let them. I know it's surprising repertoire for her, but as far as I'm concerned, she has every right to sing this music, or any music to which she cares to devote her time, musical sensitivity and gorgeous voice. She'll never please everyone. She'll always please me. I don't agree with everything she says about her opera-as-theatre revolution, but she doesn't need me to, and I don't need to in order to keep loving my Natalie. This disc is fascinating, a little strange, and utterly lovely. Natalie sings these cantatas in her own Natalie way, which is to say, with tenderness, luminous tone and emotional acuity which is second to none. Emmanuelle leads Le Concert d'Astrée with her customary brilliance and touches of originality. Say what you like about appropriate repertoire, but I think that a performance like Natalie's "Ich habe genug" transcends all those arguments. But then, I would think that.