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HELEN LAWRENCE - Portrait of an Artist

Two CDs: (1) operatic recital; (2) Pushkin songs
CD1 39.57
Nabucco - Abigaille's aria Act II
Vissi d'Arte
Elivira's Aria Act II I Puritani
Il Ballo - Amelia's Aria Act III
Come Scoglio
Adriana's Aria
Lucrezia's Aria Act II

Helen Lawrence (sop) National PO/Robin Stapleton
rec 1979 Abbey Road studio 1, London
CD2 48.12
The Fire of Desire
God preserve You
To a Greek Girl
The Garden
Sing not to me
The prisoner
What is my name
The Shadows
Towards the shores
I'm certain
Four Romances Op. 36
The magpie
Sing not
I have outlived my aspirations
I am here, Inzilla
Winter Evening

Helen Lawrence (sop) Julian Rolton (piano)
BEULAH 1-2RF5 [39.57]+[48.12]

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.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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