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.
recital was planned as a homage to Bumbry’s teacher, Lotte Lehmann. Lehmann’s account
(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is a famous historical document and is currently available on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’s
‘Liebesbotschaft’. 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
avid Bumbry completists
only, I would suggest.