Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

EMI Debut Katarina Karnéus

Die Nacht, op. 10/3, Meinem Kinde, op. 37/3, Begegnung, Nachtgang, op. 29/3, Ruhe, meine Seele! Op. 27/1, Allerseelen, op. 10/8, Mein Herz ist stumm, op. 19/6, Morgen! Op. 27/4, Wie solten wir geheim sie halten, op. 19/4
Frühlingsmorgen, Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald, Ablösung im Sommer, Erinnerung, Hans und Grethe, Scheiden und Meiden, Rückert-Lieder: Ich atmet' einen linden Duft, Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, Liebst du um Schönheit, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
Joseph MARX
Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebrach, Maienblüten, Hat dich die Liebe berüht, Wofür, Venetianisches Wiegenlied
Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Roger Vignoles (pianoforte)
Recorded 7/1998 at St. Michael's Church, Highgate, London
EMI CLASSICS CDZ 5 73168 2 [64.55]
Crotchet  £4.50 AmazonUK £6.99   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

This is the second singer in EMI's "Debut" series to come my way this month (see)and this time, too, I am happy to report that we get full texts with translations into English and French, together with trilingual notes. What's more, they're in black print on white paper, which may sound obvious to you and me but it doesn't to the people at EMI, I can assure you.

My other record featured a singer, Nathan Gunn, who, aside from the "debut" aspect, seemed a fully-formed, mature artist. Katarina Karnéus has a very interesting voice, but here I feel there is still work to be done. In her introduction she mentions that many "think that Richard Strauss's songs are best suited to a soprano voice" and hopes that her choice "will show that this doesn't necessarily have to be the case". Well yes, because hers is a rather special type of mezzo-soprano voice. I confess to having a virtually infallible sense of pitch and I almost always know immediately a song starts which key it is being sung in. Now there must be something in the range of harmonics which Karnéus's voice possesses which completely threw me. Time and again I went to the piano and found she was singing in a lower key than I thought. So in fact what we hear is the sort of creamy, golden-toned "soprano" voice which we usually associate with Strauss. (And thus no proof of how the songs would sound with a "normal" darker-toned mezzo).

Having admitted that this voice is a very lovely instrument, I must say that its use has not quite settled down yet. Take the point near the end of the first song, "Der Nacht", where she sings a number of Cs (an octave above middle C) to the words "Seele" and "Nacht". Where she gives a little more tone the sound is full and strong. But other times she seems to be holding back and the sound is a little husky, off-the-voice. Her higher range (for a mezzo - I mean around E and F above this last-mentioned C) tends to come out school-girlishly pure (the "pure white", or "Nymphs and Shepherds style", as Anna Russell put it). Take the first of the Mahler songs, "Frühlingsmorgen" and listen as she sings "Zweigen" in the second line. But then hear her sing "Sonn'" towards the end and she lets the voice expand, its quality supported by a natural vibrato. But this quality has to be kept in piano, singing off the voice is not the answer.

Then, is she a mezzo? It's true that in "Ich ging mit lust" we get a low G, albeit a small one, but generally by the time she reaches middle C she is going into her chest resonance and forays any lower are rare (she begins "Ich bin der Welt" from a B flat, and it's a bit weak). It's also true that her high B flat "Hans und Grethe" is done en passant so we do not know whether she could sustain it longer, but on the whole I have the idea that this voice is more likely to develop upwards than downwards.

Interpretatively, too, she seems unwilling to let herself go. Much of the Strauss is resolved with a stream of lovely sound which is pleasurable up to a point ("Ruhe, meine Seele!" gives a hint that she has her more dramatic side when she wants to) but Mahler loses much of his sting, with the Rückert-Lieder very placid indeed. In this, Roger Vignoles seems at one with her, and he is also recorded very backwardly. I think that actually he did a wonderful job balancing the note-full accompaniments to a not very large voice, but the producer, unaware that anybody can still do that today, "brought the voice forward" just the same.

I haven't mentioned the Marx yet, and right from the first I found Karnéus finally unfettered, really showing what she can do. The songs are highly attractive so this part of the recital makes a fine visiting-card for her. I'm sorry if I have to say that the rest seems more a report on "work in progress", but those who want to follow from the start a career which offers much promise, and to collect some lovely Marx songs at the same time, should dip in.

Christopher Howell

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: