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Travelling Light

Featuring Sir George Martin, Michel Legrand, The Clare Singers, Denyce Graves, Michael Ball, Bryn Terfel and Evelyn Glennie
Orchestra conducted by Philip Ellis
Recorded at Air Studios and Whitfield Street Studios, London, 2000-2001
EMI CDC 5 57251 2 [62:11] Fullprice

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A new label for Lesley Garrett, a new producer - Tim Handley - and a host of guest stars mark this CD out as a major turning point in the extraordinary career of Britain’s most popular soprano. During the filming of one of the Lesley Garrett BBC TV shows, Lesley was reported to have expressed her delight that Renée Fleming had agreed to guest on the show. Fleming’s reply (not, as I understand it, apocryphal) was ‘but, honey, you must understand - you are the only opera singer I know of in the whole world with her own TV show!’ And perhaps that is indeed true – certainly it marks out Lesley Garrett as a true phenomenon in these cynical and youth-dominated times.

In her notes to the album, Lesley expresses a certain amount of relief that at last she is able to separate her classical and non-classical work in the recording studio and make this, a full-blown popular album. Certainly the device that had been employed by both Silva and BMG (her previous labels) in which classical sat somewhat uneasily alongside more middle of the road items had more than played its full course. Although Lesley doubtless still maintains that she will only sing really good music of whatever type, the former juxtaposition of differing musical styles only tended to reinforce the completely unfair perception that she was an opera singer who had to lower her sights to be truly admired. Of course some of her earlier albums were basically popular in content – such as A Soprano in Hollywood – and plans were afoot at BMG for her to appear in complete operas and on other strictly classical RCA CDs. But BMG has changed radically over the last eighteen months and Lesley’s move to the EMI camp can only be a cause for rejoicing. She says in the notes ‘For those of you who prefer my classical work – please don’t worry. My recent signing with EMI Classics will give me every opportunity to collaborate with some of the world’s great classical performers’. Knowing EMI this will indeed happen. At last Lesley will be able to be properly judged in the context of her position as one of our finest opera singers.

Travelling Light was largely recorded by BMG Entertainment UK before being transferred to EMI. BMG Executive Producer Rachel Agnew and her team did a superb job, in conjunction with the BBC, in putting together an ideal repertoire package and persuading some of Lesley’s TV show guests to appear on the album. The recorded sound is sumptuous and all the arrangements bring added value to the qualities of the original songs.

Track one pays tribute to Elvis and segues Surrender into The Wonder of Love. By coincidence Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s fine new album of Neapolitan songs (Passione di Napoli – Delos DE 3290) also starts with the original version of Surrender, Torna a Surriento, sung in the original language and with a much more traditional orchestration. But Nick Ingman’s jaunty arrangement for Lesley Garrett adds a new perspective to this classic song bringing real excitement to marry the charm.

British based composer and arranger Tolga Kashif is featured on several of the tracks and he is something of a ‘find’. His Ave Maria, for example, suits Lesley’s vocal talents particularly well and her shaded high notes sung pianissimo are very well achieved. It was a nice idea to contrast these very female sounds with the purity of tone of boy treble, Julian Leang.

Those who watched Bryn Terfel and Lesley Garrett duetting on her show in Bess, You Is My Woman Now will need no encouragement from me to rush and buy this album. Michael Ball fans will feel much the same about The Summer Knows. Michel Legrand conducts this piece of his with a true composer’s insight. Legrand relinquishes the baton in Et Si Demain and sings in duet with Lesley an octave below her. One has the impression that Legrand’s range is a little limited, leading to a chosen key which puts much of Lesley’s part high in the vocal stratosphere! Yet, this is all to the good as it allows her to show off her exemplary control in the highest register.

Lesley Garrett’s notes tell the story of her meeting Sir George Martin. A highlight of this superb CD is his arrangement of two Beatles songs (one pre and one post Sgt. Pepper) For No One and Blackbird. His new versions suit Lesley to a T and how marvellous it is to hear the difficult jump up to the high setting of ‘Into the light of the dark black night’ sung with all the notes intact. The famous trumpet counter-melody in For No One is here set for french horn, a clever decision by Sir George as the contrast between soprano and trumpet would not have worked as well as it did in the original version.

Briefly, the other tracks are I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables which finds Lesley Garrett in particularly good voice, Mambo Italiano featuring fine wit from the singer and a plethora of unusual sounds from percussionist Evelyn Glennie, Two Hearts One Love composed for Lesley by George Martin with words by Don Black, Alabama Song by Kurt Weill – I find it hard to imagine Garrett in a whisky-bar but she goes a long way to persuade me! La Violet, another fine new song in Samba style from Tolga Kashif – an ensemble piece where Lesley’s voice is bravely allowed to be more in balance with the hand picked small chorus (amongst whose members is Miriam Stockley of Adiemus fame), Over The Rainbow destined I suspect for much radio play, A Boy Like That and I have a Love from West Side Story in which Denyce Graves’s smokey all-American contralto matches wondrously well with Lesley’s English soprano and Barbra Streisand’s On Holy Ground (composed by Geron Davis) which, with its strong gospel feel brings Lesley Garrett firmly back to home, and spiritual, territory.

This is one of those albums that seems to improve on every hearing. If you’re still not sure then give a copy to your mum or auntie or brother. But I suspect you will end up regretting not buying one for yourself.


Simon Foster

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