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.