Pure Diva - Tribute to Joan Hammond
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Yevgeny Onegin
1. Tatyana’s Letter Scene [12:06]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
2. Willow Song [12:14]
3. Ave Maria [4:48]
Don Carlo
4. Tu che le vanitŕ [10:43]
Antonin DVORÁK (1841 – 1904)
5. Song to the moon [6:10]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 – 1957)
Die tote Stadt
6. Marietta’s Lied [5:45]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
Les contes d’Hoffman
7. Elle a fui, la tourterelle [4:39]
Henry PURCELL (1859 – 1895)
Dido and Aeneas
8. When I am laid in earth (Dido’s Lament) [5:07]
Ronald SETTLE (? - ?)
9. Shadows [4:03]
Henry BISHOP (1786 – 1855)
10. Home Sweet Home [4:20]
Eric COATES (1886 – 1957)
11. The Green Hills of Somerset [4:06]
12. The Last Rose of Summer [4:45]
Cheryl Barker (soprano)
Timoty Young (piano) (tr. 9–12)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Guillaume Tourniaire (tr. 1 – 8)
rec. Studio 420, Ferry Road, ABC Brisbane, 27 March – 1 April 2010 (tr. 1-8), and Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, 26 May 2010
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
MELBA MR301129 [78:45]
Joan Hammond (1912–1996) was born in New Zealand but the family moved to Sydney when she was only six months old. She was a successful golfer in the late 1920s and first half of the 1930s. Parallel with that she played the violin for three years in the Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra before she went to Vienna to study singing. She had a great career for more than 25 years and appeared at the Royal Opera House, La Scala, Vienna State Opera and the Bolshoi. In 1965 she retired, due to a heart condition and later became artistic director of the Victoria State Opera and then head of vocal studies at the Victoria College of Arts until 1992. As a recording artist she was very popular and her recording of O mio babbino caro earned her a Gold Record award for selling one million copies. The Song to the Moon from Rusalka was another bestseller. With her centenary coming up next year Melba’s and Cheryl Barker’s tribute to her is well timed.
A couple of years ago I reviewed a recital disc with Cheryl Barker in the Chandos ‘Opera in English’ series and was very pleased with it. Not least was I impressed by her Tchaikovsky: two arias from The Queen of Spades where she depicted with touching vulnerability. She should be a fine Tatyana, I thought at the time, and lo and behold, on this new disc she opens with The Letter Scene. Once again she finds the right mood, eagerly and sensitively executed. She is no doubt helped by the forward-moving conducting and impassioned playing from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. There are however a couple of flies in the ointment that I didn’t remember from the previous disc, recorded just a year earlier. Under pressure the tone tends to glare and there is a beat in the voice. I’ll modify this statement at once: ‘glare’ is too strong a word and the ‘beat’ is hardly disproportionate, but both tendencies are present and in years to come they may become more disturbing. As it is, today – or rather last year when the recording was made – there is so much else to admire and savour. Much of the time she sings with exquisite tone and expressive phrasing. Her pianissimo singing and her ability to colour the voice make this a very satisfying recital, but it would be wrong of me not to mention my observations, knowing that people react very differently to vibrato.
The Otello excerpts are marvellously sung, beautifully restrained most of the time and the isolated fortissimo outbreak a magnificent climax, followed by an Ave Maria so soft and inward – a real prayer.
That beat is more pronounced in Elisabetta’s great aria from Don Carlo, at least in the opening lines but her singing in the rest of the aria is nuanced and expressive and even at forte she keeps the vibrato in check.
The two favourite arias from Rusalka and Die tote Stadt are really beautifully executed. The Dvorák is sung in what to me sounds idiomatic Czech. Korngold’s wonderful aria, memorably sung in bygone days by Maria Jeritza and Lotte Lehmann, not to forget Joan Hammond’s own version, is full of emotion and exquisite pianissimo singing. Maybe the most moving of all the items is Antonia’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, challenging even Ileana Cotrubas on the recently reissued Covent Garden Hoffmann on DVD. Dido’s Lament also confirms the impression that Cheryl Barker is at her best in elegiac situations.
Then it’s encore time and the orchestra takes a rest. Timothy Young sits at the piano – and very good he is. His arpeggio accompaniments to Shadows are stylish and precise. One doesn’t expect an encore to be quite as gloomy – almost desperate – as this but sung with such heartrending intensity it makes a deep impression. Home Sweet Home was not only a Joan Hammond encore but was also sung by the first great Australian singer: Nellie Melba. Her recording from 1905 is a classic but I have to admit that I have never been very fond of her tone. I do prefer Cheryl Barker greatly. She also gives us lovely versions of The Green Hills of Somerset and The Last Rose of Summer. Reaching the end of the recital I feel I have had an enjoyable 80-minute-traversal of some of Joan Hammond’s most famous arias and songs. My reservations, expressed in the second paragraph of the review, remain but with such understanding and sensitivity in the interpretation of this repertoire, they are easy to disregard.
The Queensland Symphony play well and the recording is first class. Besides full texts and translations there is a personal tribute to Joan Hammond by her lifelong friend Peter Burch and an appreciation of Dame Joan by the late lamented John Steane. Full marks for presentation!
Göran Forsling
Exquisite tone, expressive phrasing, pianissimo singing and an ability to colour the voice, very satisfying but clouds on the horizon?