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Kate Royal: DEBUSSY L’Enfant prodigue - Air de Lia; DELIBES Les Filles de Cadix - Chanson espagnole; CANTELOUBE Chants d‘Auvergne: Baïlèro; Malurous qu’o uno fenno; La delaïssádo; RAVEL Vocalise en forme de habanera (orch; Hoerée); STRAVINSKY The Rake’s Progress: No word from Tom; My father! Can I desert him; I go, I go to him; ORFF Carmina Burana: In trutina; R. STRAUSS Wiegenlied, Op. 41/1; Morgen!, Op; 27/4; Ich wollt’ ein Strãusslein binden, Op. 68/2; GRANADOS Goyescas: Queyas, o la maja y el ruiseňor; RODRIGO Cuatro Madrigales amatorios; TRADITIONAL The Sprig of Thyme
Kate Royal (soprano)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Edward Gardner.
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, no date supplied
EMI CLASSICS 394419-2 [65:14]

This disc was one of the debut sensations of 2007. Kate Royal is a singer who clearly considers her voice and repertoire with great thoroughness and with great intellect. She has paced herself well, as none of the above tracks strain her unduly. Edward Gardner, of ENO fame, is a most sympathetic accompanist - his Clemenza at the Coliseum recently found him battling against a below-par orchestra, though. John Fraser and Arne Akselberg captured the warmth of the Academy of St Martin beautifully.

For this disc, Royal mixes a variety of composers, concentrating on fairly easy-on-the-ear twentieth century music. There are some rarities, rubbing shoulders with much more famous fare. In the early Debussy cantata L’Enfant prodigue Royal successfully communicates Lia's sadness. The Spanish heart of the virtuoso Fille de Cadix aria - great trills - prepares one for the ever-so-well-known, seductive Canteloube Baïlerò. Here competition really sets in, with te Kanawa, Gens and de los Angeles – at present on an EMI GROC - fighting for your shelf-space. Yet Royal holds her own in this august company. La delaïssádo's inherent sadness is notably caught.

Contrasting the wordless Ravel with the vinegar of Stravinsky works well in context; the three sections of the Stravinsky are separately tracked. Perhaps the brief Orff excerpt is dispensable. I think the idea was for it to act as an area of calm, but that is effectively provided by Strauss's Wiegenlied. Again, the Strauss songs bring Royal into the ring with great singers, this time with Jessye Norman and Schwarzkopf at the top of the list. Wiegenlied works wonderfully, as it emerges as the perfect vehicle for Royal's legato. I could not find a credit for the solo violinist in Morgen! Royal's light tone perfectly interacts with the violin.

It appears that the Granados and Rodrigo items are the ones that Royal is most at home with. The famous Granados number is rapt, while the much less-known Rodrigo will delight many. This Rodrigo, surely, provides real impetus for acquiring this disc. The four songs work perfectly as a set, with the more lonely first couple moving towards the sprightlier third and the overtly Spanish fourth. A Sprig of Thyme acts as palate-cleanser.

This disc bodes well for a singer of clear and huge talent.

Colin Clarke

Steve Vasta has also listened to this CD

You can't fault Kate Royal for unimaginative programming. For her debut recorded recital, the award-winning Guildhall graduate and Glyndebourne regular eschews the familiar byways of the literature. The Strauss songs are as close as she comes to the traditional German spring-and-young-love Lieder. Instead she favors a more intrepid, mostly more modern selection, chosen, presumably, to showcase her interpretative skills.

Royal certainly brings the right basic equipment to the task. Her soprano has a sufficiently narrow focus to allow for pinpoint intonation - an important asset, especially in the more harmonically advanced repertoire - yet it's also vibrant, with a hint of richness that holds the listener's attention. She spins out Orff's In trutina easily and smoothly, and understands where she fits into the overall tapestry of Strauss's Morgen! She draws wistful resignation from ¿Con qué la lavaré?, the first of Rodrigo's Cuatro madrigales amatorios without spilling over into depression, and evokes the easy, carefree mood of the closing De los álamos vengo, madre. And, once past the arch, affected opening lines, her performance of Anne Trulove's scena is a knockout. The aria is simple and direct, soaring through the arching curves of the high phrases; the anxious recitative resolves into quiet confidence; the cabaletta is deft and propulsive.

Those opening lines, though, hint at what's not quite right. Royal tends to place her vowels "back," gaining a darker midrange at the expense of intelligibility - a dubious trade-off for a "singing actress," especially in a folksong like The Sprig of Thyme. The soft opening of Granados's Quejas sounds bottled-up; Royal phrases tenderly, but the words make no impact until the music expands, when she lets the voice out. Ravel's Vocalise en forme de habañera and Strauss's Wiegenlied are similarly neutral in tone, though the singer has the right sort of long line for the latter.

And that vowel setup, of course, leads to other imbalances. The upper voice sometimes shimmers - note the lovely rise on "heureux" in Lia's aria - and sometimes strains. The melismas of Strauss's Ich wollt' ein Strüasslein binden are heavy and earnest; even so, Royal conveys the song's curious juxtaposition of vernal hope and disappointment. In lively or delicate writing, injections of breath compromise the legato. Still, it's a pleasing and ambitious program, and I'll take it with hopes for better things to come from this intelligent artist in the future.

Under Edward Gardner, the St. Martin's forces provide firm, full-bodied support - the opulent 'cellos are seductive. But the woodwinds are too loud too much of the time: dynamics among the principals needed more fine-tuning in the interplay of Canteloube's Baïléro. Sound is basically fine, but the resonance is overly aggressive in the more rousing numbers. The booklet omits the last verse of Delibes's Filles de Cadix, and prints a completely different text for The Sprig of Thyme from what Royal actually sings.

Stephen Francis Vasta


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