Great Singers Live – BR Klassik Archive: Margaret Price
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Or sai che l’onore (Don Giovanni) [2:51]
Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio (La Clemenza di Tito) [6:55]
Come scoglio immoto resta (Cosi fan tutte) [4:31]
E Suzanna non vien’ – Dove sono I bei momenti (Le Nozze di Figaro)* [6:18]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle (Der Freischütz) [4:58]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Bel raggio lusinghier (Semiramide) [6:12]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Casta Diva (Norma)* [6:24]
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Poveri fiori (Adriana Lecouvreur)** [2:55]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ritorna vincitor (Aida) [6:58]
Mi parea – Piangea cantando nell’erma landa (Otello) [9:28]
Ave Maria piena di grazia (Otello)* [4:53]
Pace, pace mio Dio (La Forza del Destino)** [5:24]
Tu che la vanità conoscesti del mondo (Don Carlo) [10:47]
Dame Margaret Price (soprano)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Heinz Wallberg/*Leopld Hager/**Thomas Fulton
rec. 16 January 1977, München, Kongresssaal Deutsches Museum; *3 February 1991, München Philharmonie im Gasteig; 29 March 1981, München, Kongresssaal Deutsches Museum; **16 March 1986, München, Kongresssaal Deutsches Museum.
BR KLASSIK 900305 [78:41]

These recordings come from four appearances by the late Dame Margaret Price, between 1977 and 1991, at the regular Sunday concerts given by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester. This collection on CD offers a timely memorial to the peerless soprano, who died in January 2011. It’s valuable firstly for reminding us how wonderful she was in Mozart and Verdi and secondly for giving us a glimpse of her in some repertoire with which she was not quite so closely associated.

This is one of those discs where I don’t think it’s necessary to go into huge detail, for it is a feast for the ears from start to finish and all devotees of great singing will admire and relish it, I feel sure. One sometimes hears the comment that such and such a singer was “in sovereign voice” during a particular performance. On this particular occasion I think the phrase is justified for everything on the disc – and note that the performances span fourteen years, yet the quality of the voice remained remarkably consistent.

The singing is characterised at all times by burnished tone, the voice produced evenly throughout its compass. In some of the Verdi items Dame Margaret deploys a strong and completely authentic-sounding chest register for the lower lying passages. Yet in these Verdi pieces, and elsewhere, there’s also an effortless, gleaming and accurate top register on display.

At the start we hear an imperious, outraged Donna Anna and then, a couple of tracks later, as the Countess, Price shows regal dignity, especially in the recit, followed by resigned, aristocratic melancholy in the aria. ‘Come scoglio’ is but one of several commanding performances, reminding us that here was a great and cultivated Mozart soprano.

At the other end of the disc comes Verdi, another Price speciality, and there’s little room for doubt that, as a Verdi soprano Dame Margaret was the Real Thing. In ‘Ritorna vincitor’ she offers some thrilling top notes in a searingly dramatic piece of singing. As Desdemona she tugs at our heart strings, really articulating the heroine’s plight – here, as is the case throughout the disc – Dame Margaret shows tremendous care for the words, really singing off them. The final item on the disc, from Don Carlo, is a truly magnificent, all-encompassing account of Elisabetta’s aria.

I’m not normally drawn to the music of composers such as Bellini but I loved the performance of ‘Casta Diva’. Here, as everywhere else in the collection, Dame Margaret seems to have inexhaustible reserves of breath and, as a result, the line is always maintained. But though she excels in long, sweeping phrases, she’s not found wanting when it comes to vocal agility, as Semiramide’s aria proves. She’s imperious in the opening slow section of the aria but when the faster music is reached (from 3:23) there’s a dazzling, yet seemingly effortless display of dexterity in the rapid passagework. Hearing this item made me long to hear her in Rossini’s Stabat Mater but that’s almost certainly a forlorn hope – I doubt it’s a piece that was in her repertoire.

The orchestra, under three different conductors, gives their distinguished guest good support. There’s little in the way of distracting audience noise, with one glaring exception. At the end of the slow section of the Rossini aria a few people are caught unawares and start to applaud, which is a pity. Ironically, there’s no applause included at the end of this item or, indeed, after anything else. The sound is perfectly satisfactory. The booklet contains a warm appreciation of the singer but no texts or translations.

Dame Margaret Price was one of the finest British singers of the post war era and this disc is a reminder of her tremendous artistry. I loved every minute and I feel confident that those wise enough to invest in this disc will feel the same.

John Quinn

A feast for the ears from start to finish.