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Sir Thomas Allen: Great  Operatic Arias
Charles-François GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust (1859) – Avant de quitter ces lieux [3’23].
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) – Largo al factotum [4’45].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro (1786) – Vedrò mentr’io sospiro [4’42].
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser (1845) – Wie Todesahnung [4’47]; Blick’ ich umher [4’58].
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Queen of Spades (1890) – You seem unhappy, my beloved [4’59].
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)
Hamlet (1868) – Drinking Song [4’13].
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Luisa Miller (1849) – Sacra la sceltab [8’05].
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Les pêchers de perles (1863) – L’orage s’est calmé [6’26].
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Billy Budd (1951) – Look! Through the port comes the moonshine astray [5’36].
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus (1874) – Watch Dueta [4’48].
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Die lustige Witwe (1905) – Cavalryman Dueta [3’32].
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)
Carousel (1945) – I wonder what he’ll think of me! [7’11].
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Die tote Stadt (1920) – Mein Sehnenc [3’49].
Sir Thomas Allen (baritone); aJanice Watson (soprano); bBrindley Sherratt (bass); cGeoffrey Mitchell Choir; London Philharmonic Orchestra/David Parry.
Recorded in association with the Peter Moores Foundation. Texts included. All tracks sung in English. Rec. Blackheath Halls, London, on October 23rd-26th, 2003. DDD
CHANDOS OPERA IN ENGLISH GREAT OPERATIC ARIAS CHAN 3118 [72’29]


 

Sir Thomas Allen is held in great affection in the UK, and from this disc it is easy to see why.  The more ‘poppy’ final tracks - standard additions in compilations of this ilk - are much more than an addendum, Allen acting as the story-teller par excellence in the Carousel excerpt, completely at home. It is with Korngold that he opts to end, however -  Fritz’s Song from Die tote Stadt - a glowing, autumnal close that leaves a lingering sense of satisfaction after the disc stops playing. It is helped in this case also by the ethereal ladies voices of the excellent Geoffrey Mitchell Choir.

The earlier items are magnificently chosen to give not only an overview of Allen favourites, but also to give a balanced selection of favourites. The decision to start with the Faust excerpt as opposed to the more obvious second track (‘Largo al factotum’) is an interesting one, and one that works well. It immediately establishes Allen’s refulgent tone and gorgeous sense of line, his sensitivity to mood changes (quite quick in this short aria) and his natural and accurate way with the text.

The ‘Largo al factotum’, bubbly as champagne, is despatched with almost superhuman confidence, even more than Mark Stone’s cocksure Barber at ENO recently (http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2005/Jan-Jun05/barber1602.htm ). The words seem less gabbled with Allen, and I like the way Allen is distanced at the start with his ‘La la la lera’s, as if he’s walking onstage.

Talking of Almaviva-like frolickery, Figaro is next, the orchestra miraculously on the ball in the tricky accompaniment to the recit before the aria. Allen is remarkably dramatically secure - here and everywhere on the disc - clearly enjoying himself.

Mozart and Wagner make firm bedfellows, and Wolfram’s ‘Wie Todesahnung’ from Tannhäuser follows on marvellously, the one illuminating the other. Trombones are gorgeously crepuscular and captured perfectly in the Couzens’ superb recording. Allen’s legato is a model at ‘O du mein holder Morgenstern’ - here, of course, in English – ‘Look down, oh gentle evening star’. There is a simply gorgeous pianissimo in the orchestra at the end, yet it is Allen who remains in the memory. This is great singing. Wolfram’s aria describing the nature of Love, ‘Blick’ ich umher’, heard later in the recital occupies the same hallowed ground.

Interestingly the one-lined Lisa in the Queen of Spades excerpt is not credited, but one assumes it to be Janice Watson, who appears twice later. This flows well, its yearning quality contrasting with the swaggering Drinking Song from Thomas’ Hamlet. Again there are solo lines, not emanating from Allen, that are uncredited - here the parts of Marcellus and Horatio. Joyous trumpets launch this orgy of fun.

The interaction of Allen with warm-voiced bass Bradley Sherratt in the Luisa Miller excerpt - which includes the aria ‘Sacra la scelta’ - is gripping; Allen shapes the aria affectionately.

Interesting that Chandos put ‘Billy in the Darbies’ between Bizet and Johann Strauss II. The Bizet flowers into real lyricism but it is the Billy Budd fragment that marks the true climax of the disc. Allen takes you right into Britten’s elusive world, the excerpt fading back into the silence from whence it came.

Of course it is traditional to end recitals of this ilk with more ‘fun’ fare, and so we launch now into a sequence of lighter pieces. The ‘Watch Duet’ from Fledermaus sees everyone concerned at home, vocal roulades glittering ... and this time we know he’s with Janice Watson! Similar compliments could be heaped on the sweet Cavalryman Duet from The Merry Widow or the long (7’11) soliloquy from Carousel; the latter previously discussed above.

It is difficult to imagine a finer tribute to one of the UK’s finest singers. And there are few better ways of spending seventy two minutes and 29 seconds than listening to this recital straight through. I do suggest you test the truth of this statement.

Colin Clarke

 



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