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Renée Fleming sings sacred songs in concert from Mainz Cathedral
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Alla Hornpipe (Water Music, Suite II in D major, HWV 349)
Messiah: Rejoice greatly (HWV 56)
Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (c.1612-1675)
Machet die Tore weit*
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Panis angelicus* arr. Chris Hazell
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Berceuse (Dolly, op.56) orch. Henri Rabaud
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Mariä Wiegenlied
Traditional, arr. Thiel
Adeste fideles*
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hansel und Gretel: Abends will ich schlafen gehn (Abendsegen) (with five boys from the Mainzer Domchor)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828),
Ave Maria, (D839) arr. Hazell
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Laudamus te (Mass in C minor, K427)
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869),
LEnfance du Christ: L'Adieu des bergers* arr. Hazell
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Réjouissance (Orchestral Suite No.4 in D major, BWV 1069)
Siegfried OCHS (1858-1929) (attrib. Handel)
Dank sei dir, Herr
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Cantique de Noël. O Holy Night*. arr. Hazell
Renée Fleming (soprano)
Mainzer Domchor*/Mathias Breitschaft
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Trevor Pinnock
rec. live, 13 November 2005
Bonus Songs*
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
A Simple Song (Mass, 1971)
Traditional arr. Rob Mathes
The Holly and the Ivy
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863)
Silent Night. arr. Hazell
Renée Fleming (soprano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andreas Delfs
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3129 DH [70:00]

The concert component of this live recording was made in the magnificent Catholic cathedral in Mainz. It is magnificent whether seen from the outside or in the many shots of the inside during the concert. Bonus features show the city as it is now, in colour. There are also black and white photographs of the city’s destruction by allied bombing during the Second World War that left the Cathedral standing but badly damaged.
The concert opens with the choir processing into the cathedral, the men in black suits and the boy altos in contrasting white vestments with red collars. The massive size of the building is immediately obvious both in its length and also the high vaulted arches. The concert opens with Trevor Pinnock conducting a performance of Handel’s Alla Hornpipe from the keyboard (Ch. 1). With a small orchestra comprising strings, brass and woodwinds he draws a well-articulated performance from his players. Significantly, the acoustic, whilst warm, is not over-resonant in any way indicating care on the part of the engineers. Polite applause follows, as it does after each contribution from the choir, orchestra and of course from Renée Fleming, the star of the evening. She opens her contribution with Rejoice greatly from Messiah (Ch. 2). She is in excellent voice across her wide range. This extends from the highest tessitura to a low creamy quality that she seemed to lack in her earliest recordings. She decorates the vocal line with ease and facility although, inevitably, some vowels are lost in the higher tessitura. Some might find her not wholly sympathetic to Handelian style and her voice too heavy. Elsewhere there are no such doubts as Renée Fleming, sometimes with the support of the Mainzer Domchor, and sometimes with the orchestra, exhibits exquisite singing.

Of particular note is the way she caresses the phrases in César Franck’s lovely Panis angelicus (Ch. 4). Her skill as a singer is not just about the caressing of phrases, or the sheer beauty of tone, but also encompasses her range of expression, evenness of legato and variety of vocal colour. Miss Fleming manages to bring colour to her voice even in the high-lying Mariä Wiegenlied (Ch.6). Seasoned professional that she is, she also sings with, and off, five young alto members of the Mainzer Domchor in the Abendsegen from Hansel und Gretel (Ch. 8). After a somewhat bland but evenly produced rendering of Schubert’s Ave Maria (Ch. 9), Fleming ups the animus of her body language. Perhaps this was in preparation for Mozart’s Laudamus te (Ch. 10) where she goes up the vocal escalator in clearly articulated lines before descending to a resonant chest register. She rises superbly to the challenge of the Berlioz, finishing with a ravishing diminuendo (Ch. 11). In these two pieces the choir play an important and suitably resonant part.
Although the concert took place in early November, traditional Christmas music has its part to play with the choir singing an arrangement of Adeste fideles (Ch. 7). Miss Fleming joins them in Adolphe Adam’s lovely Cantique de Noël (Ch. 14). In the former blue lights shining on the hair of the men gives them a somewhat strange appearance. I could not help noticing their distinctly younger ages compared to their counterparts in British choirs. This gives cause for concern for the future of the British oratorio and cathedral choirs.
Miss Fleming sings the bonus songs from what appears to be the cloisters of the cathedral. Resplendent in a vivid green dress she is accompanied by well wrapped up members of the Mainzer Domchor. A Simple Song by Bernstein from his 1971 Mass is an unusual choice but is followed by more traditional Christmas fare. These songs are shown as being accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andreas Delfs. The booklet essay in English, French and German gives no indication of how this was achieved. It matters little when the outcome is so appealing.
Many opera stars move between oratorio and stage with aplomb. Not many can encompass the diverse styles and language challenges of this recital as well as Renée Fleming. Add the magnificent setting, the assured orchestral accompaniment and the superb choir, and lovers of great singing should not hesitate.
Robert J Farr


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