HELEN LAWRENCE - Portrait of an Artist
Two CDs: (1) operatic recital; (2) Pushkin songs
VERDI Nabucco - Abigaille's aria Act
PUCCINI Vissi d'Arte
BELLINI Elivira's Aria Act II I Puritani
VERDI Il Ballo - Amelia's Aria Act III
MOZART Come Scoglio
CILEA Adriana's Aria
DONIZETTI Lucrezia's Aria Act II
Helen Lawrence (sop) National
rec 1979 Abbey Road studio
The Fire of Desire
God preserve You
To a Greek Girl
Sing not to me
What is my name
Towards the shores
Four Romances Op. 36
I have outlived my aspirations
I am here, Inzilla
Helen Lawrence (sop) Julian
Two discs - each very different in provenance. The first is a licensed reissue
of a disc made in 1979 (you can tell its intended LP format from the playing
time) but not published until now. The second is a recent recital made in
BBC Studio 2 at Maida Vale on 17-18 May 1999. The BBC recital has as its
theme settings of Pushkin - a nice unifying thread.
This is very much a personal showcase. In the operatic anthology (acting
as a young singer's calling card or CV) the refulgence of tone and the biting
attack are quite breath-taking. Her ensanguined approach in the Verdi is
notable as is her well-judged pacing in Vissi d'Arte. Nothing is rushed.
She is not specially exciting in Il Ballo in Maschera or in the Donizetti
but in the Mozart she is both clear and brilliant. Beauty is the watchword
in the proto-Sibelian Cilea aria.
The Pushkin recital is given in Russian and is also a more generous collection.
The voice is now 20 years older. The songs are simple and Mozartian in the
Glinka and with a splendid, almost stentorian, darkness in the Dargomizhky.
The Balakirev recalls the two-piano music of Arnold Bax. In the Gretchaninov
there is a brooding sombre resentment in the words and music. The Rimsky
quartet of songs is typically colourful and imaginative. The Shostakovich
settings alternate Guernican horror, gloom and a simplicity of passion that
is very close to Tchaikovsky. Mussorgsky's grotesquerie is to the fore in
his single song. The Sing Not to Me is a miniature operatic scena
typical of the composer of the little-regarded but most sweeping opera
Francesca da Rimini (no doubt handicapped in the opera-house by its
short 70 minute duration). the Medtner are, as expected more subtle and yet
likely to be more consistently rewarding in the long term. For me this confirm
s the need for a complete edition of the Medtner songs - a project long overdue.
I am indebted to Beulah for the following background: Helen Lawrence appeared
on Woman's Hour on 21 Feb 2000 and revealed in public the reason for her
absence. As the story is now in the public domain I can re-tell it. When
in the mid-1970s Helen was an up and coming opera principal she lost her
voice after giving birth to her daughter. The doctors assured her that it
would return. It did but not for nine months during which time she lost opera
engagements. The recording made in 1979 was an attempt to show to opera companies
that her voice was better than ever. Soon afterwards Helen found her singing
voice was dropping to her speaking voice level. She developed into a mezzo.
It was now too late to develop another operatic career.
Full notes, texts and translations are provided and the discs are packaged
in one of those excellent single width jewel cases. This is a winner waiting
to be discovered.