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Renée Fleming: Sacred Songs
J. S. BACH (1685-1750)/Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Ave Maria (arr. Hazell) [3'16].
J. S. BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV147  (1723) - Jesus bleibet meine Freude (arr. Hazell) [2'45].
Siegfried OCHS (1858-1929)/attrib. George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Dank sei dir, Herr [3'16].
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Ave Maria, D839 (1825) (arr. Hazell) [4'17].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass No. 18 in C minor, K427/K417a (1782/3) - Laudamus te [4'53]. Vesperae solennes de confessore, K339 (1780) - Laudate Dominum [4'22].
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Panis angelicus (arr/ Hazell) (1872) [4'12].
Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah, HWV56 (1742) - He shall feed His flock [5'12]; Rejoice greatly [4'40].
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Mass (1971) - A Simple Song [4'06].
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem, Op. 48 (1893) - Pie Jesu [4'03].
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Gloria (1959) - Domine Deus [3'50].
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
L'enfance du Christ, Op. 25 (1850-54) - Adieu des bergers (arr. Hazell) [4'09].
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Wiegenlied [2'20].
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretel (1893) - Abends will ich schlafen gehen [3'30].
Renée Fleming (soprano); Susan Graham (mezzo)
London Voices
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andreas Delfs.
Rec. All Hallows' Church, Gospel Oak, London on April 4th-10th, 2005. DDD
DECCA 475 6925 [59'33]



When I heard Fleming at the RFH in March 2004 (see review), I was struck by her narcissism and her shallowness in response to the texts she sang. Continuing this theme as if by magic, Decca have issued a selection of 'Sacred Songs'. Normally a playing time of less than an hour for a full-price disc would bring complaint. Here, it merely brings relief there's not more of the same.

Talking of timings, I wonder if someone at Decca has decided that the attention span for 'the type of people that buy this sort of stuff' is five minutes? Certainly there is a sequence of some ten songs, no less, that last around 4-5 minutes. Supermarket programming.

Interesting that if one were to browse in a record shop - where presumably the disc would be in some sort of plastic wrap - the listing on the back of the case would imply all works are unfettered originals. Not a word is given about the often sugary arrangements. One would assume they exist because there is a certain type of listener that might find Bach, Schubert, Franck and Berlioz far too hard going in unaltered state. So it is that we begin with the famous Bach/Gounod Ave Maria in a sort of aural goo only equalled by the chug-chug of the following 'Jesu, bleibet meine Freude' - Bach relegated to jaunty lift music.

I wonder what an Innocent Ear would do with 'Dank seu dir, Herr'? And could any ear, innocent or otherwise, find any hint of gratitude in Fleming's singing? No, only that famous Fleming all-purpose 'beauty'. Like so much of this 'album' (for such it is), this sits in a nondescript comfort zone. 

Ave Maria unsurprisingly rears its head again - Schubert this time - in a marketable cure from insomnia ... and that's even before Fleming opens her mouth.

At last, track five brings something a little quicker: Mozart C minor Mass excerpt. This is identifiably Fleming, of course (read 'not Mozart') and not all slurs are clean, either. Nice trill, though.

Franck needs more exposure, of that there is no doubt, but not like this. With Fleming, he's just going to sound hopelessly and unfairly over-indulgent and that is, indeed, what happens. Crying 'Enough' to the whole of Bethnal Green by now, it was soul-destroying to discover another nine tracks left ...

The flock is fed with more mush in the Messiah excerpt. Maybe the Bernstein just passes acceptable, but the Fauré 'Pie Jesu' is a travesty. No choir-boy, this Fleming sits on the surface where she is clearly most comfortable.

And so it goes on ... and on. The Handel 'Rejoice greatly' has precious little feel of rejoicing, and precious little Handel either; this is not a Hazell arrangement, but it might as well be. Closest to a musical experience is the RPO's piping in the Berlioz which gives way to more of Fleming's anonymous vocal warmth.

Nice of Susan Graham to donate her talents to the final track ('Abends will ich schlafen geh'n'). Admittedly one of the less irritating tracks, it still floats in a sea of anonymity.

Is this really what the 'Classical Market' is coming to? Don't know about you, but it frightens me ...

Colin Clarke



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