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TRANQUILITY: A collection of beautiful melodies and arias
Giulio CACCINI (1545 – 1618)
Ave Maria (arr. Nick Ingman)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Donde lieta usci (Mimi’s Farewell) (La Boheme – 1895)
Antonín DVORÁK (1841 – 1904)
Songs my Mother taught me from ‘Gipsy Melodies B104 Opus 55’ - 1880
Albert Hay MALOTTE (1895 – 1964)
– The Lord’s Prayer
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
La Vergina degli angeli (La Forza del Destino – 1862)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
- Ombra mai fù (Serse HWV40 - 1737)
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854 – 1921)
– Prayer (Hänsel und Gretel - 1893)
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1881 –
1959) – Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: Aria (Cantilena)- 1938
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Ave Maria (Ellen’s Gesang III), D839 (Op.52, No. 6 – 1825)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Vissi D’Arte (Tosca - 1900)
Cesar FRANCK (1822 - 1890)
Panis Angelicus - 1872
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
– Vedrai Carino (Don Giovanni K527 – 1787))
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Ständchen (Horch! Horch! die Lerch') D889
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)– Pie
Jesu (Messe de Requiem Op. 48, 1886/7
Karl JENKINS (b.1944) – He
Wishes for the cloths of heaven - 2001
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
Casta Diva (Norma - 1831)
Lesley Garrett (Soprano)
Britten Sinfonia and Chorus
Ivor Bolton, conductor
The Anthony Pleeth Cello Ensemble
London Voices
Terry Edwards, Directory
BBC Concert Orchestra
Peter Robinson, conductor
BMG 74321 96300 2
[61.57]

This CD is a compilation of ‘the most beautiful arias’ taken from Lesley Garrett’s previous albums for BMG from 1997, 1998 and 2000. Presumably the publishers are hoping to continue sell this new CDs on the basis of her popularity on TV and radio. But you have to question who the recording is aimed at. It is an admirable aim to try and encourage and educate people by getting them to buy CDs of things that they would not otherwise listen to. But this one seems to set out neither to communicate nor to educate, so I can’t see how it can encourage the newcomer. All the Italian items are sung in that language and the booklet prints no translations, not even a brief summary. There is similarly no background to any of the arias, just a bald list of titles along with the name of the composer and the opera (where relevant). The producers seem to be almost encouraging the listener not to think about the aria’s context, just to listen to the lovely sound of Lesley Garrett’s voice.

And she does have a lovely voice. Anyone who heard her as Dalinda in ‘Ariodante’ at the Coliseum will know what she is capable of. But her last appearance there was a ‘Rosina’ (‘Barber of Seville’) and her stage repertoire consisted mainly of soubrette type roles such as Adele (‘Die Fledermaus’), Musetta (‘La Boheme’), Valencienne (‘The Merry Widow’), Yum Yum (‘Mikado’), and the title role in ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’. This is not a list that would lead you to expect to hear her singing ‘Casta Diva’ from ‘Norma’, but that is what she ends her recital with. Which brings us back to the issue of who the recital is for. Would you buy this if you were not already an admirer of Lesley Garrett?

The first item, Caccini’s Ave Maria, sounds lovely. But sung in a stylistically inappropriate manner and with a refulgent accompaniment, it is best to forget about Caccini. A number of the items are similarly marred by inappropriate accompaniments. ‘Ombra mai fù’ from Handel’s "Serse" has an awful leaden accompaniment from the BBC Concert Orchestra under Peter Robinson. And Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ rather suffers from a kitsch orchestration, this time played by the Britten Sinfonia under Ivor Bolton. The song is sung in German but Miss Garrett makes little of the words and no sense of narrative is allowed to disturb the lovely vocal line. Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’ (in German) comes off rather better, with more feeling for the words and a rather more discreet accompaniment. But why have an orchestral accompaniment at all, surely the Schubert songs would be far better recorded with the original piano accompaniments. The Aria from Villa-Lobos’s ‘Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, sounds lovely with an effective accompaniment by the Anthony Pleeth cello ensemble. But the piece does not feel very Latin American, and I certainly wanted a greater sense of darkness in the middle section.

As a lighter item for operatic voices, Franck’s ‘Panis Angelicus’ has a respectable recorded history. After a long luxuriant opening cello solo, Miss Garrett sings the piece with the generalised operatic style used for most of the pieces on the recording. But this piece is a religious hymn and surely demands to be sung in a more suitable manner. I felt a similar sort of problem with the Pie Jesu from Fauré’s ‘Requiem’, but for me female soprano and full orchestra not ideal for this item. Though she reins her voice in, Miss Garrett still sounds a little too sexily refulgent for my tastes, lovely though the sound is.

‘Donde lieta usci’ from "La Boheme" is unexpectedly good and whilst you would probably not expect to hear her singing Leonore ("La Forza del Destino") on the operatic stage, ‘La Vergine degli angeli’ does seem to work rather well. The Prayer (sung in English) from Humperdinck’s "Hansel and Gretel" is charming and, though the notes do not say, I presume Miss Garrett is duetting with herself. This is exactly the sort of item which suits her voice. ‘Vissi D’Arte’ from "Tosca" is a venture into heavier territory. Though sounding somewhat light voiced, her version of the aria really suffers from a lack of characterisation. You get only generalised feelings rather than the telling details which stage experience in the role can bring. With Zerlina’s ‘Vedrai Carino’ from "Don Giovanni" we are back onto territory that Miss Garrett has traversed on the stage. The aria has more feeling for the drama, but oh the accompaniment does feel rather slow and heavy.

Dvořák’s ‘Songs my mother taught me’ is sung in English but with rather stilted diction. This is followed by a version of the Lord’s Prayer by Malotte which we sang at school. It suffers from the stilted English as the Dvořák. The order of the items is bewildering. In most collections like this, the lighter, non-operatic items come at the end. But here they are cheek by jowl, so that the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is followed by ‘La Vergine degli angeli’ from "La Forza del Destino."

The closing item on the disk is ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s "Norma". Miss Garrett has a far lighter voice than any Norma that I have heard, but the aria is beautifully shaped though her fioriture are rather smudged. But this track really made me question the production values of all the items on the recording. I found all the items seemed to have a similar quality and style and that Miss Garrett’s voice seemed a little over spot-lit. Repeated hearings made this unnatural aural environment a little wearing. This tinkering was particularly noticeable in this last aria, where Miss Garrett’s Norma seems to soar effortlessly over the recessed chorus in a way that bears little resemblance to a natural balance.

On a general note, I found that there was not enough spacing between the tracks. Given the varied nature of the items on the disk, a good pause between them would be welcome.

I did enjoy this disk rather more than I expected. In all the items Lesley Garrett never sounds less than lovely, so to seems rather churlish to complain. But too many items have a generalised pleasantness of performance which relegates them to enjoyable background music, rather than the dramatic detail that really draws you in. I think that lack of stage experience tells against Miss Garrett in some of the arias. If you are an admirer of hers, then you don’t need me to advise you whether or not to buy the disk. But if you are not an admirer, then I would advise you to try and listen to the disk before buying. For those seeking to explore an unfamiliar repertoire then I cannot do better than recommend Yvonne Kenny's recital for Chandos. It is sung in English, with excellent notes and libretto and with a similar mixture of familiar arias and songs, would encourage anyone to explore further. Something that ‘Tranquillity’ entirely fails to do.

Robert Hugill


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