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Grace Bumbry: A Homage to Lotte Lehmann.
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schwanengesang, D957 (1828) - No. 1, Liebesbotschaft [3’08]; No. 5, Aufenthalt [3’20]; No. 14, Die Taubenpost [3’51]. Rastlöse Liebe, D138 (1815) [1’27]. Refrainlieder, D866 (1828?) - No. 3, Die Männer sind méchant [3’00].
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebestreu, Op. 3 No. 1 (publ. 1854) [2’05]. Lerchengesang, Op. 70 No. 2 (publ 1877) [2’26]. Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op. 105 No. 4 (1889) [3’05]. Therese, Op. 86 No. 1 (publ. 1882) [1’44].
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Oh! Quand je dors, S282 (1842) [6’16]. Enfant, si j’étais roi, S283 (c1844) [3’29].
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
La Damnation de Faust (1846) – D’amour, l’ardente flamme [8’28].
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Myrthen, Op. 25 (1840) - No. 1, Widmung [2’13]; No. 3, Der Nussbaum [3’37]. Lider und Gesänge III, Op. 77 (1840-50) - Aufträge, Op. 77 No. 5 [2’37].
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ständchen, Op. 17 No. 2 [2’21]. Sehnsucht, Op. 32 No. 2 (1896) [4’00]. Cäcilie, Op. 27 No. 2 (1894) [2’23].
TRADITIONAL
You can tell the World (arr. Margaret Bonds) [2’19].
Fernando OBRADORS (1897-1945)
Canciones clásicas españolas (1920) - No. 7, Del cabello más sutil [2’27]. El Vito [1’53].
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen (1875) - La Seguidilla [2’24].
Grace Bumbry (soprano); Helmut Deutsch (piano).
Includes numerous interviews with Bumbry and Deutsch.
Translations available on-screen.
Rec. live, Théâtre Musical de Paris-Châtelet, France, May 5th, 2001.
Video Aspect Ratio 16:9. Region Code PAL ALL. Format DVD-9. LPCM Stereo. Dolby Digital 5.0.
TDK GREAT VOICES OF OUR TIME DV-VTGB-EUR [91’00]



 

Grace Meliza Ann Bumbry was born in January 1937, making her 64 at the time of this recital. Quite an achievement, then, to present a full 1½ hour programme at a major international venue. Initially a mezzo, she moved to the soprano range later in her career. Although in the present instance the soprano part of her register is sometimes strained, it is the lower, mezzo-ish part of the range that emerges as the finest weapon in Bumbry’s armoury, strong and burnished. High notes frequently become thin and, on occasion, uncomfortable.

This recital was planned as a homage to Bumbry’s teacher, Lotte Lehmann. Lehmann’s account of Winterreise (still considered male territory) with Paul Ulanovsky is a famous historical document and is currently available on Pearl GEMMCD033. For Lehmann the text was uppermost, we are told. An apt introduction to Bumbry’sLiebesbotschaft’. Yet the problem is that Bumbry sounds highly, and inappropriately, vibratoed. Deutsch uses little pedal in his accompaniment; the two conspire to give a curiously insubstantial effect, far removed from Schubert. To make matters worse, Bumbry’s tuning is variable in ‘Aufenthalt’ and her overall control is suspect.

The contrast between pianist and singer becomes marked in Rastlöse Liebe. Deutsch’s sensitivity is everywhere in evidence, whereas Bumbry merely emerges as studied. Bumbry tells us that ‘Taubenpost’ is her favourite of all Schubert songs - because of its haunting atmosphere. But she cannot cope with Schubert in simple mode because of her tendency to over-daub the line in vibrato. The final Schubert song, though, ‘Die Männer sind méchant’, does at least exemplify Bumbry’s thoughts about text being paramount. Her diction is exemplary; Deutch’s accompaniment is delightfully cheeky.

Brahms’ lieder represent a magnificent part of that composer’s output. Jessye Norman issued an exemplary recital with Daniel Barenboim on DG some years back, one of my personal favourite lieder records of all time; it was recorded in the early eighties, now available at mid-price on 474 856-2. Bumbry cannot compete with Norman. Her readings are far too rehearsed and although there is intensity to ‘Liebestreu’, it is not enough. Bumbry missed out on the simplicity of ‘Therese’. ‘Lerchengesang’ required greater concentration and breath control than Bumbry can muster. Brahms’ lieder deserve the finest interpreters and it is a pity to report that that is not the case here.

Bumbry seems more at home in Liszt. Moving to French (subtitles are available if one wishes), she lavished tenderness on ‘Oh! Quand je dors’. Yet even here, lines can bulge without warning - inevitably towards a high note. The audience is held to rapt silence, though. ‘Enfant, si j’étais roi’ contains some lovely Lisztian left-hand rumblings on the piano, and this song at least lets us enjoy Bumbry’s fine lower register.

The inclusion of an extended segment from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust is surprising. Berlioz inevitably suffers in piano reduction because of his astonishing ear for orchestral colour. Lehmann had apparently asked Bumbry to sing this in the sixties - here it is at last. The stasis of Berlioz’s chordal writing inevitably suffers on the piano, the impression of reduction all the more forceful after so much idiomatic piano writing preceding it from Liszt, Brahms and Schubert. Berlioz’s harmonies just do not carry the same level of meaning when heard in this fashion. At least Bumbry seems fully warmed-in by now, and long and florid lines are acceptable. She shades the line well in general, but the ear is several times directed more towards Deutsch’s delicacy than to Bumbry’s singing.

Schumann was Lehmann’s ‘No. 1 favourite composer’ according to Bumbry in interview, so no surprise that he is represented here. Deutsch is magnificently wispy in the first offering, Bumbry again less convincing. It is only in ‘Aufträge’ that both musicians gel, Deutsch rising to the challenges of the tough piano part. A sense of fun at last prevails.

Richard Strauss was of course a composer for voices par excellence. Bumbry is happiest in the long lines of ‘Sehnsucht’, allowing the melody to unfold naturally. Alas in Cäcilie she is wordy, almost letting the sound of the words get in the way of the music. Her tone also lacks the depth required here.

However with such a distinguished career behind her an enthusiastic audience was perhaps as inevitable as the encores. A Traditional song, ‘You can tell the world’ is sung well until an unsubtle final note. Two Obradors songs, one gentle, one fun, make for interesting fodder.

Of course, Bumbry’s signature role was Carmen, so the Seguidilla had to come along eventually. She seems to enjoy it, but the strain of a long recital is evident.

It is good that TDK synchronise aspects of their presentation so that the booklet notes complement and enhance rather than repeat material heard in the on-screen interviews. If only I could muster more enthusiasm for the substance of this disc. Some of the interviews yield interest, not least Bumbry’s views on ‘modern’ music. ‘Not a great lover of modern music’ is how she describes herself, saying she has tried Dukas Ariadne et Barbe-bleu and Stravinsky’s The Rakes’s Progress. Hmmm.

For avid Bumbry completists only, I would suggest.

Colin Clarke 

 



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