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Susan Graham at Carnegie Hall
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Zigeunerlieder, op. 103
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Proses lyriques
Alban BERG (1885-1935)

Siebe frühe Lieder
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire
André MESSAGER (1853-1929)

Les pítites Michu: Vois-tu, je míen veux, Líamour masqué: Jíai deux amants
Moïses SIMONS (1888-1945)

Toi cíest moi: Cíest ça la vie, cíest ça líamour

Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)

A Chloris

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Liebst du um Schönheit
Ben MOORE (b.1960)

Sexy Lady
Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Recorded live at the Carnegie Hall, 14th April 2003
ERATO 2564 60293-2 [74:50]

Though we are assured that the song recital is in its death agonies, Susan Graham seems to pack the hall without much difficulty, and here she is before a cheering Carnegie Hall audience to prove it. This is the more remarkable when the programme makes no concessions to the gallery, has no hackneyed titles (not even among the four encores) thrown in as crowd-pullers.

That Graham is a great communicator is obvious from the final item, specially written for her by Ben Moore. It brought the house down and is still pretty hilarious just listening at home, and I wonít spoil the joke by telling you all the things that happen in it. You can appreciate the fact from the Poulenc pieces, too, each of which extracts a delighted ripple of amusement from the audience, as well as the three operetta items which conclude the "official" programme. These were all contained in her "French Operetta Arias" disc (Erato 0927-42106-2) which I reviewed a year or so ago, and all three are here freer and more communicative. Apart from these "fun" moments, Graham produces thoroughly engaged performances of the "harder" works by Debussy and Berg. The performance of "De grève" stands up pretty well beside the historic Teyte/Cortot recording, though that of "Fantoches" does not Ė this is the sort of performance which is only acceptable as an encore, too fast and furious to make much sense of the music.

This willingness to throw caution to the winds and to dare all is no doubt one of the ingredients of Grahamís success, but I must say that to my ears she goes over the top in the Brahms. I began by appreciating the urgency of her communication, but as the cycle goes on the liberties get greater and greater (with the pianist apparently egging her on) and no. 5 in particular seemed to me a grotesque distortion.

My other query is that she uses a degree of vibrato which, if not absolutely excessive, is enough to blunt the focus of the sound. I already noted this in the French Operetta disc, but it has now increased, making the earlier record seem reassuringly steady in comparison. It still isnít enough to be really annoying, but if the vibrato has loosened this much in two years, what will it be like in two yearsí time, let alone twenty? I know that different people react differently to this matter, but compare her with the absolute steadiness of Maggie Teyte in the Debussy or, to make a more recent comparison, Katerina Karnéus in the Mahler, and can you really deny that this is preferable?

The recording is all it should be and the trilingual booklet has an excellent note by James M. Keller as well as texts and translations.

Christopher Howell


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