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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Where shall I fly (Hercules) (1745) [5.24]; Piangero (Giulio Cesare) (1724) [6.23]; Where’er you walk (Semele) (1744) [4.03]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
O Rosetta, che rosetta
(Scherzi Musicali) (1607) [1.48]; La violetta (Scherzi Musicali) (1607) [3.47]; Lamento (Arianna) (1608) [3.47]
Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694–1758)
O Herre Gud Guds Lamb (Agnus Dei)
(Then Svenska Messan) (1752) [3.28]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681–1767)
Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarienvogels
(1737) [15.07]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble
rec. 28 February 28–2 March 1983, St. Gertrud Church, Stockholm. DDD
PROPRIUS PRCD 9008C [47.00]

This is a CD transfer of Anne Sofie von Otter’s first solo recording, made in 1983 in Stockholm. The transfer includes all the items from the LP plus the Agnus Dei from Roman’s Swedish Mass, which von Otter recorded complete that year. Evidently her recital LP was never properly available in the UK, so this CD issue might be the first time that the UK has had a chance to hear this delightful record.

Admittedly the running time is rather short; even with the additional item it still runs at only 47 minutes. But it gives us the opportunity to hear von Otter at the start of her amazing career.

Her voice is a little lighter than it is now and perhaps the flexibility does not come as easily nowadays. Also her characterisation and sheer musicality have developed in the twenty odd years since this disc, but it is amazing how much of the mature singer is available here. And it is lovely to have such confident art and strong characterisation allied to her expressively flexible voice.

She opens with Dejanira’s big scene from Handel’s Hercules, and manages to combine technical skill with powerful emotions and in a pretty arresting manner. In an amazing tour de force, she follows with the a bleakly expressive Piangero from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, commandeering Cleopatra’s part in a way that the older von Otter would perhaps find tricky, giving us a vocal line which combines clarity with malleability. In both English and Italian, her way with words is idiomatic and vivid.

She follows this with two charming songs from Monteverdi’s Scherzi Musicali. Perhaps she is a little too much concerned with beauty of vocal tone, rather than expressing the words, for these to be ideal. And the lament from Arianna is profoundly moving without being completely heart-wrenching.

Then comes the charming Agnus Dei from Roman’s Swedish Mass. Roman was the first really important Swedish composer and the first to arrange public concerts in Sweden. He was concerned to create music using the Swedish language; Agnus Dei comes from his mass setting of 1750 which sets the Swedish version of the text.

The accompaniment is delicately Mozartian, the results charming and moving in a low key way. Von Otter sings it in a simple and expressive manner. 

There then follows Telemann’s Canary Cantata; his Funeral Music for an artistic Canary. The piece is intended to be a humorous satire and Von Otter exploits the piece to maximum effect. Not everyone will like her quasi-operatic way with the music but the results are undeniably effective. Von Otter obviously relishes the opportunity the piece gives her, variously milking the vocal line for over-expressiveness, spitting consonants unmercifully and expressively spinning out the vocal line. 

The final item is another piece of commandeering, this time Where’er you walk from Semele. I’m not completely convinced by this, attractive though it is. I miss the edge that a fine tenor can bring to the vocal line.

This is a charming recital and essential listening for those who have followed Von Otter’s career. If you’ve got her later recordings then you’ll definitely want this one. 

Robert Hugill



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