A few at a time, this has been my end-of-the-day listening
for some days, and the problem is I just can’t engage. Maybe the fault
is mine; it’s a lovely voice, artistically used, words are clear and
savoured, and yet … Had I grown tired of this sort of music? Out came
a few alternative versions, enough to convince me that this music still
can engage me. So why?
Take Mandy Patinkin in the not wholly satisfactory
Te Kanawa/Carreras South Pacific (mostly valuable for a couple
of classic tracks with Sarah Vaughan). It’s obvious that his voice is
not a patch on Terfel’s and he uses some standard "music hall"
tricks of enunciation to cover the fact. But he has a wholehearted sincerity
that can bring a lump to your throat. Terfel seems to skim over the
surface, unresponsive to the little rhythmic inflections (Gayer than
laughter – pause – are you) that Patinkin and others before
him have used to enliven the message. Is this music best left to those
who specialise in it? Well, not necessarily, for even Carreras’s Some
Enchanted Evening, if not quite idiomatic, has a certain tingle
Perhaps a hint of the problem can be found remembering
how not long ago I reviewed the Grimethorpe’s latest disc and, comparing
their Dam Busters March to that directed by Sir Adrian Boult,
I commented that conductors of that generation could take up light pieces
and play them as if they were for that moment the one thing that mattered
to them. Not only conductors. Go back a generation or two (in music
as well as singing) and listen to Peter Dawson singing twaddle about
"Morgan and Calicoe Joe" or the unspeakable pun that crowns
"At Santa Barbara". He must have known that this wasn’t quite
Schubert, just as Boult knew that Eric Coates wasn’t quite Elgar and
even Elgar wasn’t quite Mozart, yet his open-hearted conviction makes
the songs real for the listener. For the moment you are happy to forget
about Schubert and Mozart and just listen to the song being sung to
you. Perhaps for some listeners Bryn Terfel has this quality, and I
am very glad for them; I only wish I could find it here myself. It’s
very presumptuous of me to try to imagine what’s going on in a performer’s
mind but if the disc had been titled, not as above, but "Bryn Condescends
with a Bit of Romantic Slosh", in his heart of hearts, isn’t that
what it’s about?
Now to get down to specifics, one symptom is a tendency
to enjoy long notes for their own sake, rather than as part of a line.
You can hear this in "I Have Dreamed". Then, there’s a lot
of "microphone singing", sweet caressing of the words "off
the voice", or even in almost pure falsetto. Every now and then
this can be effective, but it seems by the end of the disc to be a penny-in-the-slot
reaction to any soft piece, and when it comes to "Edelweiss",
call that microphone singing! Even the microphone has difficulty in
picking up the single strand of falsetto he relapses into at the end.
Frankly, I found this quite enervating.
Accents are another problem (fortunately they are not
often called for). The vague attempt at cowboy tones in Paint Your
Wagon sounds more Cornish than anything, with "I Was Born"
pointing up resemblances to "Drake’s Drum" that will have
gone undetected by those brought up on Lee Marvin’s singing cowboy.
"Get Me to the Church", for all its throaty attempts, lacks
Stanley Holloway’s wholehearted booziness, and Professor Higgins would
have seen through this "Cockney" in about five seconds!
Another factor that contributes to the sleepy overall
effect is that the real title might have been "The Best of the
Post-War Musicals"; and the genre had acquired a couple of extra
coats of sugar by that time. Maybe a bit of spunk from Rodgers and Hart
or some bittersweet Kern or Porter would have livened things up a bit.
Reactions to voices are very personal. If your reaction
is more positive than mine I wish you well. A killjoy like me can only
record his own reaction and then cast around for reasons for it.
The brief adulatory note is printed in English and
Welsh, but Welsh-speakers unable to cope with English (not very likely
visitors to this site, I admit) are warned that the song texts themselves
are in English only. Still, rather than provincialism, I prefer to see
this as a surreptitious bit of globalisation, or at least Europisation.
Who would have imagine fifty years ago that one day Deutsche Grammophon
would be releasing a disc with notes in English and Welsh and not a
word of German in sight?