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.
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.
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.
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.
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