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Willard White (bass-baritone)
Traditional (arranged by Carl Davis)
‘Go down Moses’; ‘Deep River’; ‘Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel’
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Don Giovanni, ‘Fin ch’han dal vino’
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust, ‘Vous qui faites l’endormie’
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)

Les Pecheurs de perles, ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (with Bonaventura Bottone, tenor)
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Cinderella, ‘Ballroom Waltz and Midnight’ (Orchestra only)
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Five Old American Songs: ‘The Boatman’s dance’, ‘The Dodger’, ‘Long time ago’, ‘Simple Gifts’, ‘I bought me a cat’

‘On the beach at midnight alone’ (Orchestra only)
Robert Russell BENNETT (1894-1981)

‘Gershwin in Hollywood’ (Orchestra only)
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)

South Pacific, ‘Some enchanted evening’
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Porgy and Bess, ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’
Jerome KERN (1885-1945)

Show Boat, ‘Ol Man River’
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Carl Davis
Recorded live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Dec. 31st 1998 and at Leeds Castle (Bizet and Davis) 1999
REGIS RRC 1176 [62.55]

Born in Jamaica in 1946, Willard White’s career progression, at least until the last ten years or so, has been curiously uneven. He won a scholarship from the Jamaican School of Music to the internationally renowned Juilliard School in New York where he was chosen to participate in master classes given by Maria Callas. After debuts at Houston and New York City Opera he hit the headlines as Porgy in Decca’s acclaimed 1976 recording of Gershwin’s ‘negro opera’ under Maazel. He sang the same part, to even greater acclaim, in EMI’s 1989 recording conducted by Simon Rattle based on the Glyndebourne Festival production. It was in 1989 that White’s acting abilities were recognized when he played Otello for ‘The Royal Shakespeare Company’ alongside such stage luminaries as Sir Ian McKellen, Zoe Wanamaker and Imogen Stubbs. Given the foregoing CV it is a surprise that White was not in constant demand in the world’s leading opera houses. Perhaps his voice was viewed by some opera house intendants as lying uneasily between bass and baritone, lacking the ideal sonority in the lower voice and wanting the heft or stamina required for Wagner’s Wotan. Whatever, he is now in demand throughout Europe and America and in the meantime British audiences have enjoyed many of his dignified and well-characterized operatic interpretations. On the concert platform he has developed his ‘Tribute to Paul Robeson’ recitals.

This CD is largely based on a New Year’s Eve Concert in Liverpool, with the addition of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers duet (tr. 6) recorded later at Leeds Castle. By far the best items on this disc come at the beginning and end. The three traditional Negro spirituals, in tasteful arrangements by Carl Davis (trs. 1-3) find White’s voice tonally focused, expressive and sonorous if not ideally steady in ‘Deep River’ (tr. 2). Perhaps his best singing of the evening, with the greatest range and tonal variety, comes immediately after in ‘Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel’ (tr. 3). After that start the operatic items are something of a let-down with White’s voice not really comfortable or flexible enough in the Mozart (tr. 4), whilst in Mephisto’s serenade he is too cautious and lacks the ideal weight of tone (tr. 5). In the Bizet duet (tr. 6) the part of Zurga is really too high for him, but his musicality wins out and the result will please his fans. This is the only item that doesn’t have concluding applause and its acoustic is over-reverberant; perhaps electronic amplification?

Copland’s arrangements of ‘Five Old American Songs’ (trs. 8-12) were premiered at the 1951 Aldeburgh Festival by Peter Pears and Ben Britten. White sings these well although in ‘The Boatman’s Dance’ his good vocal flexibility is marred by thin tone at the top of the voice. No such reservations about the singer’s interpretation of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ (tr. 15) where his diction is superb with the voice exhibiting a wide range of expression and tonal colour. In ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’ (tr. 16) White is again in home territory, suiting his range, tone and diction. The concert concludes with his rendition of the Robeson favorite ‘Ol’ Man river’ (tr. 17) and the audience show their appreciation with enthusiasm. If Willard White’s ‘Some enchanted evening’ doesn’t erase memories of Pinza on the film sound track, or his ‘Ol’ Man river’ Robson’s particular way with that song, that is merely to imply he is good, but not as good as the greatest. True, but could Robeson and Pinza have changed songs and been as good as White in both? I doubt it. For those who like the programme, or the too rarely recorded singing of Willard White, this is a worthwhile issue well recorded and at bargain price too.

Robert J Farr

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