> Leontine Price Rediscovered [JQ]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leontyne Price Rediscovered
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759):

‘Care selve’ (from Atalanta) [2’57"]
‘Bel piacere’ (from Agrippina) [2’26"]
‘Avanti al tuo cospetto: Piangerò la sorte mia’
(from Giulio Cesare in Egitto) [5’37"]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897):

Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 [10’28"]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948):

‘La mamma morta (from Andrea Chénier) [4’56"]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963):

Tu vois le feu du soir’ (from Miroirs brûlants) [3’54"]
‘Main dominée par le cœur’ [1’18"]
‘C’est ainsi que tu es’ (from Métamorphoses) [2’14"]
‘Je nommerai ton front (from Miroirs brûlants) [1’24"]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981):

‘Nocturne’ Op. 13 No. 4 [3’25"]
‘The Daisies’ Op. 2 No. 1 [1’05"]
‘Sleep Now’ Op. 10 No. 2 [2’52"]
Lee HOIBY (b. 1926):

‘Winter Song’ [2’42"]
‘In the Wand of the Wind’ [1’17"]

‘His Name So Sweet’ (arr. Hall Johnson) [1’56"]
‘My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord’ (arr. Florence Price) [2’00"]
‘Lord, I Just Can’t Keep from Cryin’ ‘ (arr. Margaret Bonds) [3’15"]
‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ (arr. Bonds) [2’12"]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924):

‘Chi il ben sogno di Doretta’ (from La rondine) [2’23"]
‘Vissi d’arte’ (from Tosca) [3’06"]
George Gershwin (1896-1937):
‘Summertime’ (from Porgy and Bess) [2’27"]
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950):

‘Ecco: respiro appena; lo son l’umile ancella’ (from Adriana Lecouvreur) [2’48"]
Leontyne Price (soprano)
David Garvey (piano)
Recorded ‘live’ at Carnegie Hall, New York City on 28 February, 1965
RCA RED SEAL 09026 63908 2 [66’36]

Just occasionally a CD comes along for review which is, in some way, so exceptional that the (very pleasant) job of the reviewer is simply to encourage others to share his pleasure. This is such a disc.

It enshrines Leontyne Price’s recital debut at Carnegie Hall, New York. Remarkably, this did not take place until 1965 by which time she was 38 and had been a front rank singer for over a decade, gracing the world’s concert halls and opera houses. Furthermore, she had appeared in concert at Carnegie Hall on eighteen previous occasions since 1954. Quite why she had not previously given a solo recital in this famous hall is unclear – probably because she was in such demand all over the world. However, the delay meant that when the debut arrived she was at the height of her very considerable powers.

RCA recorded the complete recital but, inexplicably, only two items (the Brahms songs (tracks 5 –12) and the Cilea encore (track 29)) were ever released – and even then not until the 1990s. The rest of the recording has slumbered in RCA’s vaults until now.

Let me say at once that I have rarely encountered such a sustained example of vivid, communicative singing. I would strongly recommend to listeners that the very best way to experience this disc is to start at the beginning and listen straight through. By so doing, one gets a true sense of ambience. Some judicious editing apart, RCA have retained the applause. Sometimes this can be a distraction when listening to ‘live discs’. Not here. One can really feel the growing excitement of the audience as the recital progresses and Miss Price manifestly responds to her audience, whose appreciation spurs her to give ever more generously.

The programme opens with three Handel arias. These are regally delivered with sumptuous tone and generous phrasing. The Brahms songs which follow are sharply characterised. However, although the recital has been of high quality up to this point it comes electrifyingly to life with the Giordano aria (track 13). Here we experience a great dramatic artist in full flow. Price has no scenery, no props, no orchestra to support her but her superbly characterful singing conveys Madéleine’s emotions with searing intensity. The audience erupts at the end, and rightly so.

After the Giordano aria is placed a quartet of songs by Poulenc. I would not immediately have associated Miss Price with this repertoire but she is a most persuasive interpreter of these songs.

The author of the notes tells us that Miss Price almost invariably included American songs in her recital programmes. Apparently she described herself as "an American troubadour" with a "duty to express the beauty and prowess of our composers." I was particularly glad to find that on this occasion she had chosen a group by Samuel Barber. In my opinion Barber was one of the very finest of twentieth century songwriters, allying a marvellous melodic gift with a discerning eye for texts. Leontyne Price was a formidable champion of his music. (Seek out, if you can, her marvellous RCA disc which includes the three songs in this present recital together with the world premiere performance of the Hermit Songs – all accompanied by Barber himself – together with a definitive account of Knoxville: Summer of 1915.) In this recital Price gives a wonderful account of the haunting ‘Nocturne’. She also gives a pert, charming rendition of the early ‘The Daisies’ and is memorably intense in the complex Joyce setting, ‘Sleep Now’.

Two songs by another American composer, Lee Hoiby, follow the Barber items. These were songs which I had not previously heard but they are well worth hearing, especially ‘Winter Song’ (track 21), an atmospheric setting of a poem by Wilfred Owen.

By this stage in the proceedings Miss Price had her audience in the palm of her hand. However, in the four spirituals with which she closed the official programme she took this rapport to new heights. This is clearly music with which she identified very strongly and the performances are deeply felt, including plenty of "note bending". The listener is left in no doubt that spirituals, jazz and the blues as musical forms are inextricably entwined. What we hear is urgent, impassioned singing, real ‘live’ music making caught on the wing. Listen to ‘My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord’ (track 24) and be borne along on a tide of bittersweet emotion. Even more intense is ‘Lord, I Just Can’t Keep from Cryin’’(track 25), music from the heart.

The Carnegie Hall audience, by then rapturous, demanded more from her and were treated to no less than four encores. Some might object to the bluesy decorations to the vocal line of ‘Summertime’ but in the context of the occasion I think it would be curmudgeonly to do so. All four encores are magnificent but the concluding ‘Vissi d’arte’ (track 30) is in a class of its own, even by comparison with what has gone before. Refulgently sung, it is deeply moving.

If by now I haven’t persuaded you of the merits of this CD let me add that the sound is very good; Miss Price is sensitively accompanied throughout by David Garvey – a true musical partnership, this; there are good notes and all texts and translations are supplied. Finally, the booklet contains some contemporary photographs which show Miss Price looking as strikingly beautiful as she sounds.

This is one of the most compelling, charismatic discs to have come my way in a long time. The singing is thrilling with a voluptuous voice used with great intelligence. Additionally, though there are many recordings of Miss Price in opera and in some of her concert roles such as the Verdi Requiem, recitals are not so prominent in her discography, a fact which enhances the value of this CD.

However, the real value of this release lies in the sense of occasion. Rarely have I encountered a live recording which is so vividly communicative, giving the atmosphere of the concert itself - which is why it is especially rewarding to listen right through. However, you can pick any track at random and find a really great singer at the height of her powers, plainly relishing the occasion and reaching out to her audience. This, surely, is what being a diva really means.

The power of words allied to music makes singing, for me, the most satisfying of all forms of music making, whether as performer or auditor. This disc is a supreme example of the singer as communicator. I recommend it urgently to all lovers of the singing voice. If you only buy one disc of vocal music this year make sure it’s this one!

John Quinn


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