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Distant Beloved
Simon O’Neill (tenor)
Terence Dennis (piano)
rec. 2015/16, Adam Concert Room, Wellington, New Zealand
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
DECCA 481 7905 [65:51]

New Zealand born Simon O’Neill has made himself a name during the last decade or so as one of the greatest Heldentenöre of the world. I heard him some seven years ago as Max in Der Freischütz at the Barbican in a concert performance conducted by Sir Colin Davis and later issued on CD (review). I found him then neither too heavily dramatic nor too lyrically weak – in other words an ideal Max. His tone wasn’t too ingratiating but his enunciation of the text exemplary and he was expressive also in musical terms. Less than two years ago I reviewed the third instalment, Siegfried, in Naxos’s Hong-Kong Ring and thought him the best Siegfried since Siegfried Jerusalem. Again I noted that this voice isn’t as beautiful an instrument as Jerusalem’s, but I was impressed by his stamina and power, which didn’t exclude lyrical moments.

When he now releases his first song recital the requirements are a bit different. Volume isn’t the first thing one needs in this repertoire, dramatic heft is also a secondary feature. Good enunciation, on the other hand, is essential and there he is a model. But I still feel that the actual sounds he produces are a bit on the dull side. There are some fine nuances in the Beethoven cycle but by and large it is quite uninteresting. His Schumann is better and Du bist wie eine Blume is beautifully sung with a great deal of passion. The Strauss songs are also something of a mixed bag with a careful Die Nacht, a good Allerseelen and an intense Cäcilie, where his Heldentenor is at its very best. Morgen! is a song that is almost impossible to spoil, but ideally it needs softer nuances and a hushed intensity that seems to be beyond his reach at this stage of his career. I do admire his honesty but I can’t help wishing that he had been able to fulfil the composer’s intentions more completely.

When we come to the Wesendonck Lieder he is more on his home ground. Stehe still is dramatic and his declamation in Im Treibhaus is convincing. Schmerzen has the right intensity and the concluding Träume is beautifully sung.

I am in two minds about this disc. I admire Simon O’Neill’s wholehearted approach to these songs, his intensity and his deep involvement and his expressive handling of the texts, but I feel on the other hand that his voice at this stage has lost too much of the pliability that once allowed him to sing Tamino, and the tone is often too gritty to be absolutely enjoyable. Admirers of Simon O’Neill will still find a lot to admire here, but the best way to enjoy him is through one of his complete opera sets – why not the Naxos Siegfried mentioned above, or the recital “Father and Son” with scenes from five Wagner operas, which was enthusiastically reviewed here at MusicWeb by Wagner specialist Jim Pritchard. Let me also say that if you want a recording of the Wesendonck Lieder with a tenor, then go for Stuart Skelton’s recent recording (review), where you also get five excerpts from Wagner operas plus songs by Griffes and Barber. He is of course accompanied by orchestra, where most of the arrangements are not by Wagner himself, while the piano version, which O’Neill sings, is entirely Wagner’s own. Terence Dennis is there, as in the rest of the programme, in excellent shape and Decca’s recording cannot be faulted.

A serious effort from a gifted singer, who unfortunately is overshadowed by some even better competitors.

Göran Forsling

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
An die ferne Geliebte:
1. No. 1 Auf dem Hügel sitz ich spähend [2:59]
2. No. 2 Wo die Berge so blau [1:47]
3. No. 3 Leichte Segler in den Höhen [1:49]
4. No. 4 Diese Wolken in den Höhen [1:12]
5. No. 5 Es kehret der Maien, es blühet die Au [2:23]
6. No. 6 Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder [4:06]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Myrthen, Op. 25
7. No. 1 Widmung [2:17]
8. No. 24 Du bist wie eine Blume [1:50]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
9. Zueignung Op. 10 No. 1 [1:58]
10. Die Nacht Op. 10 No. 3 [3:17]
11. Allerseelen Op. 10 No. 8 [3:24]
12. Breit‘ über mein Haupt Op. 19 No. 2[1:46]
13. Ruhe, meine Seele! Op. 27 No. 1 [3:35]
14. Cäcilie Op. 27 No. 2 [2:22]
15. Heimliche Aufforderung Op. 27 No. 3 [3:46]
16. Morgen! Op. 27 No. 4 [3:49]
17. Ich trage meine Minne Op. 32 No. 1 [2:42]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Wesendonck Lieder
18. No. 1 Der Engel [3:10]
19. No. 2 Stehe still [3:52]
20. No. 3 Im Treibhaus [5:33]
21. No. 4 Schmerzen [2:29]
22. No. 5 Träume [5:07]

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