Great Singers Of The 20th Century Vol. 1 - Benita Valente

Benita Valente (soprano)
rec. 1969-1989

Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
BRIDGE 9316 [69:01]

The American soprano Benita Valente had a long and distinguished career in opera, Lieder and concert work. She studied with Lotte Lehmann and Martial Singher and later with Margaret Harshaw, making her debut in 1960 at the Marlboro Festival with, among others, Rudolf Serkin. She spent several years in Germany but after making her Metropolitan debut in 1973 became a regular there. Mozart and Handel were composers she had a special affinity for but she also sang some Verdi. She had a great interest in contemporary music and many important composers have written music for her. Her recorded legacy is large and wide-ranging and according to Wikipedia she has recorded for at least seventeen companies. The present disc collects items from several different companies, both studio efforts and live recordings.

The three Mozart items all show her at her very best, light, bright and fluent. Her easy top notes are particularly impressive. She is a lovely Susanna and the concert aria Vorrei spiegarvi exposes a fine trill and superb breath control. This is a live recording and the applause is well deserved. I am less convinced by the Handel aria. Lascia ch’io piango is one of his finest inspirations and it is gloriously sung but too heavy and too romantic. It should be more inward.

Richard Goode showed in the opening Mozart song what a marvellous pianist he is and in the Schubert, Brahms and Wolf groups he is absolutely superb. Heidenröslein is fresh as dew and Nacht und Träume utterly sensitively sung. Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is one of the great chamber music compositions and with two fabulous co-musicians – Harold Wright and Rudolf Serkin – this live recording from the Marlboro Festival in 1969 now goes to the top of the many versions I have, challenging even Rita Streich’s legendary DG recording from the late 1950s. Ms Valente runs her close and she colours the voice more expressively in the slow middle section.

The Brahms and Wolf songs are just as enticing and over and over again one has to listen just as carefully to the piano as to the singing. Unfortunately there are few recording dates given but it should be noted that Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is from 1969 and the Debussy songs from 1989 and there is very little difference in tone quality. Good basic training and clever choice of repertoire is without doubt the basis for such consistency. The songs by Fernando Obradors are relative rarities and they are lovely, especially Del Cabello mas sutil (tr. 25), which I couldn’t resist playing three times in a row. Definitely one for my shortlist of favourites – which by now is getting rather long.

The recordings are fully worthy of the performances and there is a fine appreciation on the singer by Robert Baxter in the booklet. I hope Bridge will give us further volumes with Benita Valente but this one is certainly worth anyone’s money.

Göran Forsling

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
1. Un moto di gioia, K. 579 [1:36]
2. Deh vieni, non tardar from Le nozze di Figaro [4:45]
3. Vorrei spiegarvi o Dio! K. 418 [7:16]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
4. Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo [4:29]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
5. Heidenröslein, D 257 [1:45]
6. Nacht und Träume, D 827 [3:07]
7. Rastlose Liebe, D 138 [1:16]
8. Der Hirt auf dem Felsen [11:26]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
9. Meine Liebe ist grün, Op. 63 No. 5 [1:16]
10. Vergebliches Ständchen, Op. 84 No. 4 [1:33]
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
from Italienisches Liederbuch
11. Auch kleine Dinge [2:13]
12. Mir ward gesagt [1:51]
13. Wer rief dich denn? [1:05]
14. Du denkst mit einem Fädchen [1:00]
15. Wie lange schon [2:09]
16. Ihr jungen Leute [1:10]
17. Mein Liebster singt [1:28]
18. Ich hab’ in Penna einem Liebsten wohnen [0:56]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
Ariettes oublies
19. Il pleur dans mon coeur [2:09]
20. Chevaux de bois [3:10]
21. Aquarelles I Green [2:05]
22. Aquarelles II Spleen [2:19]
Fernando OBRADORS (1897 – 1945)
23. Al Amor [1:10]
24. Con amores la mi madre [1:30]
25. Del Cabello mas sutil [2:00]
26. Chiquitita la novia [2:23]
Benita Valente (soprano)
Richard Goode (piano) (1, 5-7, 9-18)
Lydia Artymiw (piano) (19-22)
David Effron (piano) (23-26)
Eastman Orchestra/David Effron (2, 4)
Mozart Festival Orchestra/Alexander Schneider (3)
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Harold Wright (clarinet)
rec. October 1970 (3); Marlboro Music Festival July 1969 (8); January 1989 (19-22); for remaining tracks no dates are given

Worth anyone’s money… see Full Review