This appears to be Annette Dasch’s début on Musicweb.
She figures as the soprano in the heading to Christopher Howell’s
review of the Skrowaczewski recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
but he gave that recording such a kicking that he didn’t even
mention any of the soloists. Following her appearance with the
Berlin Akademie für Alte Musik as a Harmonia Mundi Nouveau
Musicien in Baroque Songs (HMN911835), in addition to the
disastrous Beethoven she has recorded Mozart (Il Re Pastore
on DVD, DG 0734225) and Franz Schmidt’s under-rated das Buch
mit den sieben Siegeln (Querstand 2CDs, VJK0411), quite a
varied repertoire. In addition, the booklet informs us that she
has performed in Don Giovanni at la Scala, in Mendelssohn’s
Elijah in Florence and The Tales of Hoffmann
in Paris. We are told that Armida is among her most
important roles, but not informed which Armida (Gluck,
Handel ... ?).
In case we have missed out on her career to date,
BMG/Sony have thoughtfully stuck a transparent label on the
front of the CD case, in German only in the case of my review
copy, extolling her virtues. Always willing to check whether
what it says on the label is actually inside, I propose to take
those encomia as my starting point.
That august journal the Frankurter Allgemeine
Zeitung describes her as a lyric soprano with luminous high
notes and excitingly dramatic powers of immediacy. The luminous
top notes, apparently effortlessly achieved, I immediately concede.
I’d add that she also hits the low notes pretty effectively,
displaying a mezzo quality at times, for example in Venez,
venez, track 5.
Welt am Sonntag maintains that few other
contemporary singers match her ability to charm and to move
the hearer, whilst remaining completely natural; this also seems
a reasonable description of her performance here, though I hear
more of the power to move (berührend) than of that to
I also concede the statement attributed to ttt
that she is confident and incredibly talented, Opernglas’s
contention that she produces sensual and exquisite tones (sinnliche
Töne die gleichzeitig im Klang erlesen klingen) and Res
Musica’s description of her superb technique.
I’m not so sure that I agree with FAZ’s
‘lyric’. Very little of the music here really qualifies as what
I would call lyric, rather it is mostly declamatory and she
sings accordingly. If ‘lyric’ means unstrained, yes, her singing
has that quality, but mostly she rises very forcefully to the
occasion: on the final track (oddly billed as a ‘bonus’) declamatory
comes close to shouting at times, though the voice never sounds
strained. She is, after all, signing that a hundred furies enrage
her heart (Ho cento smanie al cor). There are gentler,
almost lyrical moments in some of the arias here – the very
first track, Ah! si la liberté, for example – and Dasch
mostly tailors her voice well to these, but there are not enough
of them to confirm the epithet. Even the lament Ah quelle
cruauté, track 3, is designed to show off a powerful voice
rather than afford opportunity for lyricism.
I’ll suspend judgement, therefore, on the lyrical
qualities of Dasch’s voice until, as I hope, I have an opportunity
to judge it in an appropriate context. The repertoire here,
though ranging in date from early- to late-eighteenth century,
is rather monothematic: all the arias are taken from operas
or cantatas in which Armida appears. By casting their net wider,
Sony could have encompassed a greater range of styles. The booklet
mentions Lully’s Armide (1686) and Dvorak’s Armida
(1904) and there are also works by Salieri (Armida, 1771),
Rossini (Armida, 1817) and Brahms (Rinaldo, 1858)
which could have been included.
This lack of variety limits Dasch’s ability to
display the other quality mentioned by the Allgemeine,
her power to assume different dramatic roles convincingly, since
she is enacting only the one role as portrayed by a group of
composers with similar intentions working within similar musical
frameworks. By contrast Magdalena Kožená’s recent recital of
Handel arias, highly praised by CH
here on Musicweb (477 6547, Recording of the Month), encompasses
a range of roles in a variety of operas. The recent recording
of the complete Handel cantata, Armida Abbandonata, on
Glossa GCD921522, also provides variety by placing it within
the context of the cantatas which Handel composed for the Marchese
Ruspoli. Dasch’s Harmonia Mundi début may have consisted of
predominantly lively material, but it did give her the opportunity
to display a range of vocal techniques, including more lightness
Hugill, in his rather unenthusiastic review of the Naxos/Mallon
recording of Handel’s complete Rinaldo, reminds us that
we can never know what passed for ‘dramatic’ singing in the
early 18th century: “[W]e will never really come
to understand how much of a sense of drama Handel’s singers
gave the works; but undoubtedly the operas do work as drama
and some of the cognoscenti during Handel’s day regarded them
as such.” Ironically, where I find Dasch slightly over ‘dramatic’
on this recital disc, he thought the Armida on that complete
recording rather too lightweight. (He actually used the very
word, ‘lyric’, that I have hesitated to apply to Dasch.)
One quality which the booklet does not mention,
though I see that one reviewer mentions it with reference to
her performance as the Countess in Figaro at the Barbican
in 2004, is her incredible breath control. That quality is much
in evidence on this recording.
For a good line in enchantresses the sixteenth-century
Italians had no equal. When Spenser wanted to depict the Bower
of Bliss, which Sir Guyon destroys at the end of the Second Book
of The Faerie Queene, it was to these Italian models
that he turned. First came Ariosto, whose Orlando Furioso,
of course, inspired several operas, notably by Vivaldi and Handel.
Ariosto’s enchantress Alcina, whose beauty, to quote Harington’s
Elizabethan translation, “outdid the rest as farre/As doth the
Sunne an other little starre”, seduces the hero Ruggiero. Later
Tasso outdid Ariosto in La Gerusalemme Liberata (1581)
with the invention of the Saracen enchantress Armida, niece to
the wizard ruler of Damascus, who with her wicked wiles
detains the Christian hero Rinaldo from his rightful role in Goffredo’s
crusading army. Rinaldo’s friends undertake a perilous journey
beyond the limits of the known world to free him from his delusion.
Fairfax’s near-contemporary English
translation of Tasso is available online from several different
sites: try the link to Book IV, where Armida is introduced, on
the Online Medieval and Classical
Library. From there it is possible to navigate to other parts
of the text. The Italian original is also available online.
Usa ogn’arte la donna, onde sia colto
ne la sua rete alcun novello amante;
né con tutti, né sempre un stesso volto
serba, ma cangia a tempo atti e sembiante.
Or tien pudica il guardo in sé raccolto,
or lo rivolge cupido e vagante:
la sferza in quegli, il freno adopra in questi,
come lor vede in amar lenti o presti.
All wily sleights that subtle women know,
Hourly she used, to catch some lover new.
None kenned the bent of her unsteadfast bow,
For with the time her thoughts her looks renew,
From some she cast her modest eyes below,
At some her gazing glances roving flew,
And while she thus pursued her wanton sport,
She spurred the slow, and reined the forward short.
The arias here may not quite give Dasch the opportunity
to demonstrate ‘all wily sleights’ but she generally
makes the most of her material.
Gluck’s Armide, employing the same libretto
which Lully had used, accounts for almost half of the items
here. Dasch makes a strong enough case in these excerpts for
me to want to hear the whole of what Gluck thought “perhaps
the best of all my works.” Perhaps some enterprising company
would like to record her in a complete version: her voice has
precisely those virtues which at least one reviewer found lacking
in Mireille Delunsch on the Archiv version (459 616-2).
In the first two arias Armide has been captivated
by her would-be victim. Ah! si la liberté opens with
a wistful orchestra introduction but the soloist is allowed
only brief moments of lyric wistfulness. La chaîne de l’hymen
similarly calls for and receives full-throated singing. In Ah
quelle cruauté, where she tries to force herself to hate
Renaud (Rinaldo) there are some tender moments and Dasch makes
the most of these. In venez, sécondez, though she calls
on demons to transform themselves into zephyrs, and in Venez,
venez, where she invokes implacable hate to save her from
love, lyricism is hardly required and Dasch gives both these
arias the full-voice treatment.
Throughout the Gluck arias her French pronunciation
is good, as is her Italian in the remaining items. Just occasionally
she swallows some syllables, but nowhere near the excesses of
Joan Sutherland at her worst (in spite of which, I still treasure
her in Handel’s Alcina, another enchantress opera).
The extract from Rinaldo at once points
the superiority of Handel to Gluck and offers the chance for
some really affective singing, which Dasch takes, though it
is still the strength of her voice which comes over rather than
lyricism, especially in the second half of the aria, where she
In Jommelli’s Ah! ti sento I thought that
there were some missed opportunities for a more tender tone
– but it is a wonderful display aria, so who could blame Dasch
for giving it her all? I have already commented on her full-throated
rendition of the ‘bonus’ Jommelli item, track 14, Odio, furor,
dispetto, where she matches her rendition to the words of
hate and fury.
For all the excellence of Dasch’s singing in the
two items from Handel’s Armida Abbandonata, I miss the
lyric qualities which Emma Kirby brings to this repertoire on
reissue of four other Italian cantatas (not including Armida)
which I recently reviewed. In the first part of Ah! crudele
and the reprise, she comes close to taking the opportunity for
some really lyric singing, assisted by the appropriately very
light accompaniment for this aria and for In tanti affanni
but once again my impression in both arias was of display. If
anything, she has an even more effortlessly wide range than
Kirkby, but with very little really soft tone, especially in
In tanti affanni.
The two Haydn extracts show both his greater involvement
of the orchestra in the musical drama and his ability to capture
a really tender mood. Dasch is very nearly ideal in Se pietade
avete, mixing tenderness and display simultaneously; in
Ah, non ferir, her voice is really appealing in both
senses of the word. If you want to sample the virtues of this
CD, either of these tracks would be excellent for the purpose.
Nowhere in the booklet is the running time mentioned;
58:22 is not especially generous. We could have had the whole
of the Handel cantata. The notes in the booklet are brief but
generally informative. Had Sony been less obsessed with reproducing
Armida’s Garden of Enchantment on every page, they could
have been longer – and we could have had the texts and translations,
for which we have to rely on inserting the CD in a PC or AppleMac.
This may (just) be acceptable for mid-price reissues and it
is certainly better than having to go online for elusive texts
(EMI please note) but it is inexcusable in a full-price recording.
It is rather a cheek then to describe this as an ‘enhanced CD’
– enhanced by giving us the privilege of printing our own libretto.
(Maybe Armida is not the only would-be enchanter here.) You
may find it difficult to stop your PC automatically playing
and/or ripping the music tracks from the CD without giving you
a chance to get at the Adobe pdf document. Once printed, how
do you fit an A4 document into the CD case? To add insult to
injury, there are several careless typos: lo for Io,
mouva for muova, etc.
The Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic under David Syrus
offers very effective support. Mostly, of course, they get credit
for being unobtrusive, especially in the Handel cantata arias,
but on tracks 6 and 8, stylish performances of the Chaconne
from Gluck’s Armide and the Sinfonia of Jommelli’s
Armida Abbandonata, they come into their own well enough
for me to hope to hear them again in orchestral repertoire –
Haydn or Mozart, say. Their tone is hardly ‘period’, a little
heavy for my taste in this music, but certainly not irredeemably
The recording is good, wide-ranging but close.
Both the voice and the accompaniment are well captured but I
would have liked to have been just a row or two further back
in the stalls, as it were. Turning down the volume a couple
of dB helps.
For all my complaint about lack of variety, it
was a good idea to combine the arias from four composers on the
same theme. For all my marginal reservations about her never having
the opportunity to display true lyric qualities, I found Annette
Dasch’s singing here excellent, especially when one bears in mind
that she is not just an 18th-century specialist but
encompasses a wide range of roles and styles, both operatic and
non-operatic. If the concept of this recording appeals, go ahead
and buy with confidence.