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Echoes of Nightingales
Encores as sung by Kirsten Flagstad, Eileen Farrell, Helen Traubel and Eleanor Steber
see end of review for track listing
Christine Brewer (soprano), Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. All Saints, Durham Road, East Finchley, London, 14-16 December 2009
Sung texts printed in booklet
HYPERION CDA67813 [65:52]

Experience Classicsonline



A disc with encores, many, even most of them, unknown, seems an interesting idea. It isn’t new: Elly Ameling recorded an LP with songs from all over the world and in sundry languages and there have to be others as well. The point with this disc is that we get a good handful each from four dramatic sopranos’ supply of encores, sung by a latter day equivalent. But why the title Echoes of Nightingales? Human nightingales are the likes of Erna Sack, Erna Berger, Miliza Korjus and Rita Streich and their repertoire should have been sung by Diana Damrau or Natalie Dessay. The source is the first song of this collection, Sidney Homer’s and William Ernest Henley, where the first stanza reads:

                Sing to me, sing, and sing again,
                My glad, great-throated nightingale:
                Sing as the good sun through the rain,
                Sing, as the home-wind in the sail!

The song belonged to Helen Traubel’s repertoire and she spent twelve years at the Met singing exclusively Wagner roles. But she started in a lighter vein, singing cabaret and vaudeville, which she also did in parallel with her Met tenure, much to Rudolf Bing’s dismay. All the others also ventured into light repertoire and even the great Kirsten Flagstad could let her hair down and tackle folksongs, the exquisite Grieg songs, composed mainly for his wife, the lyrical Nina Hagerup. So why complain? Human nightingales exist in all sizes and here we can wallow in sounds from one of the best endowed of the dramatic soprano species.

So there is no need to complain. Christine Brewer has long been a favourite and her contribution to Hyperion’s project with the complete Schubert songs, masterminded and accompanied by Graham Johnson, was one of the glories of that set. Hers is a fantastic voice: large, with lots of decibels in reserve, brilliant top notes but so rounded and smooth that she caresses the ear like a mild west wind. It is quite unlike Flagstad’s bronze trombone tones and nowhere near Birgit Nilsson’s laser beam sound. In recital Ms Nilsson could also let her hair down and sing for instance Swedish folk songs, or O mio babbino caro or I could have danced all night. She isn’t a new Traubel, or Farrell or Steber either. She is Christine Brewer and listening through this delightful collection I didn’t hear any of those whose encores she sang but – Christine Brewer. And that is not just fair enough – it’s great. So there is no need to complain.

I don’t know how many of these songs were actually recorded by the old ’uns. Flagstad set down the Frank Bridge song during her Indian summer Decca sojourn, but I didn’t bother to search it out for comparison. Encore time isn’t for deep analysis, it is for enjoyment.

And there is a lot to enjoy here. Occasionally an old favourite appears, like Romberg’s Will you remember, so beautifully and sensitively sung. The last rose of summer is another soft number and it is nice to hear If I could tell you, by Idabelle Firestone. She was married to Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company who sponsored the Firestone programmes on radio and television and required that the guest of the evening should sing that song as the opening number. I have recently listened to Jussi Björling in newly restored recordings from those and other American radio programmes. He never sentimentalized anything he sang but the somewhat syrupy orchestral arrangements tend to make the song sound sticky. Accompanied by piano, exquisitely played, as always, by Roger Vignoles, Christine Brewer’s scaled-down chamber version of the song sounds healthier.

Maybe, I thought before starting the CD-player, maybe I shouldn’t play the whole disc in one sitting. But I was wrong. It works well, even though there is no central group of songs by Schubert or Wolf. But Sidney Homer, Edwin McArthur (Flagstad’s long-time accompanist), Mildred Lund Tyson and Celius Dougherty (Ms Brewer’s own encore) can deputize for the Lieder greats.

I hardly need to add that the recording and production values are up to Hyperion’s usual standards. Never standard but highly interesting and perspective-building, are the liner-notes by the late lamented John Steane.

A final piece of advice: go out and buy the disc, lock the door, shut the blinds, pour a glass of Medoc, light a candle, slump down in your favourite chair, read John Steane’s essay and start listening. You won’t regret the purchase – or the wine for that matter. And agree with me: there is no cause for complaint.

Göran Forsling

Track listing
Sidney HOMER (1864 – 1953)
1. Sing to me, sing [1:49]
Edwin McARTHUR (1907 – 1987)
2. Night [3:14]
A Walter KRAMER (1890 – 1969)
3. Now like a lantern [2:24]
Mildred Lund TYSON (1900 - ?)
4. Sea Moods [2:51]
Landon RONALD (1873 – 1938)
5. O lovely night! [3:22]
James H ROGERS (1857 – 1940)
6. At Parting [1:48]
John Alden CARPENTER (1876 – 1951)
7. The sleep that flits on baby’s eyes [2:26]
Paul SARGENT (1910 – 1987)
8. Hickory Hill [2:34]
Vincent YOUMANS (1898 – 1946)
9. Through the years [3:56]
Paul NORDHOFF (1909 – 1977)
10. There shall be more joy [2:12]
Frank La FORGE (1879 – 1953)
11. Hills [2:31]
Frank BRIDGE (1879 – 1941)
12. Love went a-riding [1:54]
Idabelle FIRESTONE (1874 – 1954)
13. In my garden [3:43]
Sigmund ROMBERG (1887 – 1951)
14. Will you remember? (Sweetheart) [4:21]
Idabelle FIRESTONE
15. If I could tell you [3:19]
Thomas MOORE (1779 – 1852) / Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812 – 1883)
16. The last rose of summer [2:48]
Harold VICKARS ‘MOYA’ (? - ?)
17. The song of songs (Chanson du coeur brisé) [4:47]
John La MONTAINE (b. 1920)
18. Stopping by woods on a snowy evening [1:50]
Harold ARLEN (1905 – 1986)
19. Happiness is a thing called Joe [4:00]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990)
20. Some other time [2:34]
Ernest CHARLES (1895 – 1984)
21. When I have sung my songs [2:17]
Celius DOUGHERTY (1902 – 1986)
22. Review [5:10]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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