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CD: Dux

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
The Creatures of Prometheus
: Overture [4:56]
Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Cantata Arianna a Naxos (instru. by Ernest Frank) [20:52]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia
: Overture [7:04]
Tancredi: Recitativo and aria of Tancredi: “Di tanti palpiti” [8:09]
L’Italiana in Algeri: Overture [7:37]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Il Trovatore: Aria di Azucena “Strada la vampa” [6:10]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848)
Lucrezia Borgia: Orsini’s Toast: “Il segreto per esser felici” [3:43]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
L’Italiana in Algeri: Aria “Cruda sorte” [4:38]
Ewa Podleś (alto)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. live, 14 December 2008, Concert Hall of the National Philharmonic, Warsaw
DUX 0709 [63:06]
Experience Classicsonline

I have been a great fan of Ewa Podleś ever since I discovered her voice in the early nineties. She is that rare thing: a real contralto d'agilità of ample volume, with a ringing top C and a thunderous lower register, as equally capable and thrilling in Rossini as she is in Verdi. I am ungracious enough to observe that she is now well into her fifties and a few signs of wear are creeping into that magnificent voice: there is a permanent huskiness, a more pronounced, glottal break between the two registers, and some looseness in its vibrations. Nonetheless, this is still a fine instrument and Madame Podleś can still deliver, as the response of her audience confirms. I'm not sure, however, about the programme recorded here: a concert performance with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra on 14 December 2008 to celebrate, of all things - and I quote: the "Bicentenary of the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Warsaw". The fold-out CD wallet with full notes (biographies, synopses and libretto) is attractively produced and clearly neither the university nor the label, Dux, spared any expense, but a programme with a rather obscure Haydn cantata at its centre as the most substantial piece might constitute as great a deterrent as it would an inducement for some prospective purchasers. Having said that, “Arianna a Naxos" was considered good enough by Janet Baker for an early Philips recital disc with Leppard and the ECO, so who am I to argue, even if I don't find it enthralling? The slight peculiarity (eclecticism?) of the programming is compounded by the selection of an overture by Beethoven, two by Rossini, two arias by Rossini, one by Verdi and another by Donizetti. Hmmm...but why not, you may ask? Well; you can catch Podleś in better, more youthful voice singing the heck out of Rossini in her 1995 studio recital for Naxos or on her later Dux Rossini disc and the playing in the orchestral items is pleasant if undistinguished. It is also a little odd and frustrating to hear the extended martial passage leading into "Stride la vampa" played by the orchestra but with no chorus - so no lusty cries of "La zingarella!"

All in all, I am not quite sure why this disc exists except as memento of a Warsaw event and as a chance to hear the great Podleś briefly as Azucena and in Orsini's toast, a number made famous by illustrious predecessors such as Dame Clara Butt, Sigrid Onégin and Marilyn Horne - and, I must admit, rather better sung by all of them than it is here. Fans of Ewa Podleś might consider the slightly meagre helping of their idol on offer here worth the full cost of this import but I shall return to those discs which preserve her at her very best.

Ralph Moore 






















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