In this live recital
Sarah Connolly and her partner, Eugene
Asti, give us a beautifully laid-out
programme. It’s quite clear that a good
deal of thought has gone into the choice
and ordering of the music and so it
makes sense to comment on the performances
in the order in which they’re given.
The Haydn cantata with
which they begin is an interesting piece,
not least because over half of its length
is given over to two substantial recitatives,
the second of which is particularly
dramatic. Miss Connolly shows her operatic
instincts and experience in this performance,
projecting both recitatives strongly.
In the first aria, marked Largo, she
puts over the longing in the music most
successfully and in the second aria,
a larghetto, she sings with deep feeling.
Eugene Asti’s accompaniment is delightfully
pointed. This is a very successful opening
Next comes a group
of songs by Brahms. Without exception
these are well done. The only slight
criticism I’d have is that perhaps the
choice of songs is insufficiently varied.
Only ‘Ständchen’, with which the
selection begins, is really in a lively
tempo. That said, there’s abundant life
in Miss Connolly’s singing of all these
lovely songs. She spins a delectable
long line in ‘Nachtwandler’ and is beautifully
poised in her reading of ‘Die Mainacht’.
Best of all, perhaps, is ‘Von ewiger
Liebe’. This is a great song and she
gives a superbly committed and involving
account of it.
I suspect that on the
night the interval came next in order
to provide a natural break between the
music of Brahms and Hahn. The more I
hear of Reynaldo Hahn’s songs the more
I like them. He may not attain the levels
of accomplishment of Fauré or
Poulenc but his music has consistent
charm and regularly gives pleasure.
Miss Connolly’s begins with ‘À
Chloris’. What a lovely song this is!
Here singer and pianist capture the
grave Bachian beauty of the piece and
its elegance too. In ‘L’Énamourée’,
which follows, we hear Sarah Connolly’s
gorgeously rich voice to full advantage
but then there's a lovely light touch
evident in her singing of ‘Trois jours
de vendange’ and a winning gaiety to
‘Quand je fus pris au pavillon’. Of
course, ‘L’Heure exquise’ is the song
that has given this CD its title. All
that need be said is that the song does
indeed sound exquisite.
A group of songs by
Korngold makes a most enterprising choice.
I’d come across the two songs from Op.
14 before: they’re included in Anne
Sofie von Otter’s DG collection, ‘Rendezvous
with Korngold’. However, the other two
items were new to me. All four offerings
have a fine melodic inspiration and
there is often more than a touch of
nostalgia too. This latter trait is
particularly evident in ’Sterbelied’,
which gets a wonderful performance.
Worthy of passing note is the repeated
reference to a little motif from the
finale of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony that
is contained in the piano part for ‘Gefasster
To end the "official"
programme Sarah Connolly treats us to
two songs from Broadway shows by Weill.
These are show songs of the very highest
order. I suspect Miss Connolly loves
them because she gives irresistible
readings of both. To finish she gives
us two English encores. Both are done
with much character, especially the
I’m usually a bit wary
of the "puffs" contained in
artist’s biographies. However, on this
occasion one caught my eye. A writer
in the New York Times described
Miss Connolly’s voice as "dark
and true, remarkably flexible and filled
with the required heat." On the
evidence of this recital I’d say that
verdict is right on the money. Furthermore
this programme shows her to be a wide-ranging
and imaginative artist, equally capable
of doing justice to Haydn and to Broadway.
She sings in three foreign languages
and, so far as I could tell, her pronunciation
in all three tongues is impeccable –
as is her diction in whatever language
she chooses to sing. There seems to
be a palpable sense of communication
with her audience, fully vindicating
her decision to record this recital
live rather than in the studio.
There are useful, succinct
notes. The sung texts are provided together
with an English translation where appropriate.
My only complaint – and it’s quite a
serious one – is that the typeface is
so small that I had great trouble reading
the booklet. The recorded sound is very
good. I thought the balance between
singer and piano was fine throughout,
which is pleasing since Eugene Asti’s
excellent playing is a vital component
of the success of this recital.
This is a gem of a
disc. Strictly speaking the CD’s title
is, of course, somewhat inaccurate because
we get a good deal more than one hour
of Miss Connolly’s singing. However,
that’s an "inaccuracy" that
I’m very happy to forgive and there’s
no inaccuracy in describing the recital
as exquisite. I enjoyed this disc immensely
and I know I will return to it in the
future with great pleasure.