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Shu-Cheen Yu (sop)

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Zaïde, (KV344/336b) Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben
Exultate, jubilate, (KV165)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Wiegenlied, Op. 41, No. 1
Ständchen, Op. 17, No. 2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Jauchzet Gott in alien Landen from Cantata No. 51 (Richard Madden trumpet)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La bohème, Musetta's waltz song
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Don Pasquale, Quel guardo, il cavaliere
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Der Freischütz, Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)

Ave Maria (Alexa Murray, cor anglais)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Requiem, (Op. 48) Pie Jesu
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) (arr. August Reinhard)
Serse, Ombra mai fu
Sir Henry R. BISHOP (1786-1855)

Lo! here the gentle lark
Shu-Cheen Yu (sop)
Patrick Nolan flute
The Queensland Orchestra/Brett Kelly
Rec. 3-6 Feb 2004, Studio 420, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Brisbane. DDD
ABC CLASSICS 476 2610 [64.26]

ABC Classics seem to have a wholly commendable policy of giving recording opportunity to performers making their professional way in Australia. I recently reviewed an ABC disc by the New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, albeit under the rather pretentious title ‘The Voice’.

The present wide-ranging collection of soprano arias and songs has a more pleasant and realistic title. As with the baritone, the singer here has worked and developed her skills with Opera Australia. No date of birth or age is given for Shu-Cheen Yu. The booklet, which gives all words with English translation, merely states that she was twenty years of age when she first encountered Western music. Prior to that she was involved, and totally immersed, in Chinese folk music. This is her third album for ABC Classics. The first, ‘Lotus Moon’, featured a combination of Eastern and Western repertoire. The second, ‘Willow Spirit’, was exclusively Oriental in style. In this disc she sings her personal choice of a broad spectrum of the Western classical and operatic repertoire. The selection represents significant and diverse challenges for any singer. Shu-Cheen Yu has a light soprano voice with a fair degree of flexibility. In arias such as that from Mozart’s Zaide she exhibits a promising palette of colour at the start of the aria whilst her high notes are well taken on the breath at the conclusion (tr. 1). What is lacking is even transition between the two whilst sustaining the tonal colour. She succeeds better in this respect with Richard Strauss’s Wiegenlied (tr. 2). On the down side her depth of feeling and understanding of the song is not on a par with say the rich-voiced Jessye Norman, or the lighter-toned Lucia Popp, both of whom have developed as singers whilst totally immersed in the European tradition. Shu-Cheen Yu puts her vocal agility fully to the test in Bach’s Cantata No. 51 (tr. 3). Perhaps stimulated by the well-played trumpet obbligato, she makes an acceptable shot at this, getting expression, coloratura and clarity of diction in nice balance. This higher part of the singer’s voice is well suited to Pie Jesu from Faure’s Requiem where she soars above the stave very affectingly (tr. 9). Likewise in Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (tr. 8) and Bishop’s well known Lo! here the gentle lark. Problems for her come when she needs to put more pressure on the voice, particularly in the middle and lower regions where an intrusive flutter is evident and also a tendency to chop phrases. These weaknesses tend to restrict full enjoyment of the operatic items in particular, even in Quel guardo, il cavaliere from Don Pasquale which I would have expected to have suited her strengths.

The recording is set in a clear, slightly warm, airy acoustic with a nice balance between singer and orchestra. The orchestral accompaniment is ideally paced by the conductor and wholly supportive of the singer. The booklet gives all the words with English translation as well as a paragraph on each of the works sung; well done ABC Classics! Without knowing Shu-Cheen Yu’s age, it is difficult to say whether further study in the European operatic idiom would facilitate her career in that field. In the immediate future the wide repertoire on this disc should appeal to her admirers. It may also extend their musical horizons as she is obviously doing.

Robert J Farr

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