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Armida
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Armide (1777) Ah! si la liberté me doit être ravie [3:40]
La chaîne de l’hymen m’étonne [1:35]
Ah quelle cruauté de lui ravir le jour! [1:42]
Venez sécondez mes désirs [2:23]
Venez, venez, haine implacable [2:35]
Chaconne [6:17]
Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Rinaldo (1711) Ah crudel il pianto mio [5:26]
Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774)
Armida Abbandonata
(1770) Sinfonia [5:04]
Ah! ti sento mio povero core [7:08]
Handel
Armida Abbandonata
HWV105 (1707)
Ah! crudele e pur ten’ vai [4:56]
In tanti affanni miei [3:35]
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Armida (1783) Se pietade avete, oh Numi [6:28]
Ah non ferir : t’arresta [4:56]
Jommelli
Armida Abbandonata
: Odio, furor, dispetto [2:19]
Annette Dasch (soprano); Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie/David Syrus
rec. in conjunction with Bayerischer Rundfunk, Bavarian Music Studios, Munich, 20-27 April 2007. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, French and German. Texts with English, French and German translations available only as a pdf document by inserting CD in PC or Macintosh.
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 10059 2 [58:22]

 


This appears to be Annette Dasch’s début on Musicweb. She figures as the soprano in the heading to Christopher Howell’s review of the Skrowaczewski recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (review), but he gave that recording such a kicking that he didn’t even mention any of the soloists. Following her appearance with the Berlin Akademie für Alte Musik as a Harmonia Mundi Nouveau Musicien in Baroque Songs (HMN911835), in addition to the disastrous Beethoven she has recorded Mozart (Il Re Pastore on DVD, DG 0734225) and Franz Schmidt’s under-rated das Buch mit den sieben Siegeln (Querstand 2CDs, VJK0411), quite a varied repertoire. In addition, the booklet informs us that she has performed in Don Giovanni at la Scala, in Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Florence and The Tales of Hoffmann in Paris. We are told that Armida is among her most important roles, but not informed which Armida (Gluck, Handel ... ?). 

In case we have missed out on her career to date, BMG/Sony have thoughtfully stuck a transparent label on the front of the CD case, in German only in the case of my review copy, extolling her virtues. Always willing to check whether what it says on the label is actually inside, I propose to take those encomia as my starting point.

That august journal the Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung describes her as a lyric soprano with luminous high notes and excitingly dramatic powers of immediacy. The luminous top notes, apparently effortlessly achieved, I immediately concede. I’d add that she also hits the low notes pretty effectively, displaying a mezzo quality at times, for example in Venez, venez, track 5.

Welt am Sonntag maintains that few other contemporary singers match her ability to charm and to move the hearer, whilst remaining completely natural; this also seems a reasonable description of her performance here, though I hear more of the power to move (berührend) than of that to charm (anmutig).

I also concede the statement attributed to ttt that she is confident and incredibly talented, Opernglas’s contention that she produces sensual and exquisite tones (sinnliche Töne die gleichzeitig im Klang erlesen klingen) and Res Musica’s description of her superb technique.

I’m not so sure that I agree with FAZ’s ‘lyric’. Very little of the music here really qualifies as what I would call lyric, rather it is mostly declamatory and she sings accordingly. If ‘lyric’ means unstrained, yes, her singing has that quality, but mostly she rises very forcefully to the occasion: on the final track (oddly billed as a ‘bonus’) declamatory comes close to shouting at times, though the voice never sounds strained. She is, after all, signing that a hundred furies enrage her heart (Ho cento smanie al cor). There are gentler, almost lyrical moments in some of the arias here – the very first track, Ah! si la liberté, for example – and Dasch mostly tailors her voice well to these, but there are not enough of them to confirm the epithet. Even the lament Ah quelle cruauté, track 3, is designed to show off a powerful voice rather than afford opportunity for lyricism. 

I’ll suspend judgement, therefore, on the lyrical qualities of Dasch’s voice until, as I hope, I have an opportunity to judge it in an appropriate context. The repertoire here, though ranging in date from early- to late-eighteenth century, is rather monothematic: all the arias are taken from operas or cantatas in which Armida appears. By casting their net wider, Sony could have encompassed a greater range of styles. The booklet mentions Lully’s Armide (1686) and Dvorak’s Armida (1904) and there are also works by Salieri (Armida, 1771), Rossini (Armida, 1817) and Brahms (Rinaldo, 1858) which could have been included. 

This lack of variety limits Dasch’s ability to display the other quality mentioned by the Allgemeine, her power to assume different dramatic roles convincingly, since she is enacting only the one role as portrayed by a group of composers with similar intentions working within similar musical frameworks. By contrast Magdalena Kožená’s recent recital of Handel arias, highly praised by CH here on Musicweb (477 6547, Recording of the Month), encompasses a range of roles in a variety of operas. The recent recording of the complete Handel cantata, Armida Abbandonata, on Glossa GCD921522, also provides variety by placing it within the context of the cantatas which Handel composed for the Marchese Ruspoli. Dasch’s Harmonia Mundi début may have consisted of predominantly lively material, but it did give her the opportunity to display a range of vocal techniques, including more lightness of tone. 

Robert Hugill, in his rather unenthusiastic review of the Naxos/Mallon recording of Handel’s complete Rinaldo, reminds us that we can never know what passed for ‘dramatic’ singing in the early 18th century: “[W]e will never really come to understand how much of a sense of drama Handel’s singers gave the works; but undoubtedly the operas do work as drama and some of the cognoscenti during Handel’s day regarded them as such.” Ironically, where I find Dasch slightly over ‘dramatic’ on this recital disc, he thought the Armida on that complete recording rather too lightweight. (He actually used the very word, ‘lyric’, that I have hesitated to apply to Dasch.) 

One quality which the booklet does not mention, though I see that one reviewer mentions it with reference to her performance as the Countess in Figaro at the Barbican in 2004, is her incredible breath control. That quality is much in evidence on this recording. 

For a good line in enchantresses the sixteenth-century Italians had no equal. When Spenser wanted to depict the Bower of Bliss, which Sir Guyon destroys at the end of the Second Book of The Faerie Queene, it was to these Italian models that he turned. First came Ariosto, whose Orlando Furioso, of course, inspired several operas, notably by Vivaldi and Handel. Ariosto’s enchantress Alcina, whose beauty, to quote Harington’s Elizabethan translation, “outdid the rest as farre/As doth the Sunne an other little starre”, seduces the hero Ruggiero. Later Tasso outdid Ariosto in La Gerusalemme Liberata (1581) with the invention of the Saracen enchantress Armida, niece to the wizard ruler of Damascus, who with her wicked wiles detains the Christian hero Rinaldo from his rightful role in Goffredo’s crusading army. Rinaldo’s friends undertake a perilous journey beyond the limits of the known world to free him from his delusion. Fairfax’s near-contemporary English translation of Tasso is available online from several different sites: try the link to Book IV, where Armida is introduced, on the Online Medieval and Classical Library. From there it is possible to navigate to other parts of the text. The Italian original is also available online.

Usa ogn’arte la donna, onde sia colto
ne la sua rete alcun novello amante;
né con tutti, né sempre un stesso volto
serba, ma cangia a tempo atti e sembiante.
Or tien pudica il guardo in sé raccolto,
or lo rivolge cupido e vagante:
la sferza in quegli, il freno adopra in questi,
come lor vede in amar lenti o presti.

All wily sleights that subtle women know,
Hourly she used, to catch some lover new.
None kenned the bent of her unsteadfast bow,
For with the time her thoughts her looks renew,
From some she cast her modest eyes below,
At some her gazing glances roving flew,
And while she thus pursued her wanton sport,
She spurred the slow, and reined the forward short. 

The arias here may not quite give Dasch the opportunity to demonstrate ‘all wily sleights’ but she generally makes the most of her material.

Gluck’s Armide, employing the same libretto which Lully had used, accounts for almost half of the items here. Dasch makes a strong enough case in these excerpts for me to want to hear the whole of what Gluck thought “perhaps the best of all my works.” Perhaps some enterprising company would like to record her in a complete version: her voice has precisely those virtues which at least one reviewer found lacking in Mireille Delunsch on the Archiv version (459 616-2). 

In the first two arias Armide has been captivated by her would-be victim. Ah! si la liberté opens with a wistful orchestra introduction but the soloist is allowed only brief moments of lyric wistfulness. La chaîne de l’hymen similarly calls for and receives full-throated singing. In Ah quelle cruauté, where she tries to force herself to hate Renaud (Rinaldo) there are some tender moments and Dasch makes the most of these. In venez, sécondez, though she calls on demons to transform themselves into zephyrs, and in Venez, venez, where she invokes implacable hate to save her from love, lyricism is hardly required and Dasch gives both these arias the full-voice treatment.

Throughout the Gluck arias her French pronunciation is good, as is her Italian in the remaining items. Just occasionally she swallows some syllables, but nowhere near the excesses of Joan Sutherland at her worst (in spite of which, I still treasure her in Handel’s Alcina, another enchantress opera).

The extract from Rinaldo at once points the superiority of Handel to Gluck and offers the chance for some really affective singing, which Dasch takes, though it is still the strength of her voice which comes over rather than lyricism, especially in the second half of the aria, where she threatens cruelty. 

In Jommelli’s Ah! ti sento I thought that there were some missed opportunities for a more tender tone – but it is a wonderful display aria, so who could blame Dasch for giving it her all? I have already commented on her full-throated rendition of the ‘bonus’ Jommelli item, track 14, Odio, furor, dispetto, where she matches her rendition to the words of hate and fury. 

For all the excellence of Dasch’s singing in the two items from Handel’s Armida Abbandonata, I miss the lyric qualities which Emma Kirby brings to this repertoire on the Eloquence reissue of four other Italian cantatas (not including Armida) which I recently reviewed. In the first part of Ah! crudele and the reprise, she comes close to taking the opportunity for some really lyric singing, assisted by the appropriately very light accompaniment for this aria and for In tanti affanni but once again my impression in both arias was of display. If anything, she has an even more effortlessly wide range than Kirkby, but with very little really soft tone, especially in In tanti affanni. 

The two Haydn extracts show both his greater involvement of the orchestra in the musical drama and his ability to capture a really tender mood. Dasch is very nearly ideal in Se pietade avete, mixing tenderness and display simultaneously; in Ah, non ferir, her voice is really appealing in both senses of the word. If you want to sample the virtues of this CD, either of these tracks would be excellent for the purpose. 

Nowhere in the booklet is the running time mentioned; 58:22 is not especially generous. We could have had the whole of the Handel cantata. The notes in the booklet are brief but generally informative. Had Sony been less obsessed with reproducing Armida’s Garden of Enchantment on every page, they could have been longer – and we could have had the texts and translations, for which we have to rely on inserting the CD in a PC or AppleMac. This may (just) be acceptable for mid-price reissues and it is certainly better than having to go online for elusive texts (EMI please note) but it is inexcusable in a full-price recording. It is rather a cheek then to describe this as an ‘enhanced CD’ – enhanced by giving us the privilege of printing our own libretto. (Maybe Armida is not the only would-be enchanter here.) You may find it difficult to stop your PC automatically playing and/or ripping the music tracks from the CD without giving you a chance to get at the Adobe pdf document. Once printed, how do you fit an A4 document into the CD case? To add insult to injury, there are several careless typos: lo for Io, mouva for muova, etc. 

The Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic under David Syrus offers very effective support. Mostly, of course, they get credit for being unobtrusive, especially in the Handel cantata arias, but on tracks 6 and 8, stylish performances of the Chaconne from Gluck’s Armide and the Sinfonia of Jommelli’s Armida Abbandonata, they come into their own well enough for me to hope to hear them again in orchestral repertoire – Haydn or Mozart, say. Their tone is hardly ‘period’, a little heavy for my taste in this music, but certainly not irredeemably so. 

The recording is good, wide-ranging but close. Both the voice and the accompaniment are well captured but I would have liked to have been just a row or two further back in the stalls, as it were. Turning down the volume a couple of dB helps.

For all my complaint about lack of variety, it was a good idea to combine the arias from four composers on the same theme. For all my marginal reservations about her never having the opportunity to display true lyric qualities, I found Annette Dasch’s singing here excellent, especially when one bears in mind that she is not just an 18th-century specialist but encompasses a wide range of roles and styles, both operatic and non-operatic. If the concept of this recording appeals, go ahead and buy with confidence.
 
Brian Wilson
 

 

 


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