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Pilar Lorengar (soprano)
The Art of Pilar Lorengar
rec. 1966-1983
DECCA 473 317-2 [77:00+77:23]

This CD set was originally released in 2003 and comes to me as part of a group of releases that I somehow missed purchasing at the time. As I write this review, it is only available as an on-demand purchase from Presto Classical or ArkivMusic. Many of the contents have been made available on two subsequent releases on the Eloquence label.

Pilar Lorengar was a much-loved artist whose career spanned from the 1950’s to the first half of the 1990’s. She worked primarily in Berlin at the Deutsche Opera but she made regular visits to New York, San Francisco and London.  She was highly regarded in Mozart and Verdi roles in particular and she made a few successful excursions into the Wagnerian repertoire, too. There are a few wonderful accounts of her Elsa, Eva, Desdemona and Alice Ford to be found on both official and pirate issues of radio transmissions. Her chief asset was a silver-toned soprano voice of unusual freshness and beauty. There is a sort of glorious shimmering sound to her voice which gives it a gleaming halo that surrounds her tone. Some critics have described this as a vibrato that falls unpleasantly on their ears. I note that Christopher Howell in his original review found very little to enjoy. I can only offer that I hear nothing but reams of silvery tone on these excerpts.

Among the highlights on the first CD, is a particularly touching and passionate rendition of Vissi d’arte.  In her aria from Suor Angelica, the little “catch” in her tone brings out the tears inherent in the music. She gives a patrician version of Dove Sono; it is worth noting that she had sung the Countess on a number of occasions and Cherubino earlier in her career. In her version of the Rusalka aria, the silver in her voice uncannily reflects the moon that the water nymph is singing to, although there is a rather curious orchestral coda to this piece that I have not encountered in any other version of this aria that I have come across. In the aria from Cosi fan tutte, her voice demonstrates the inner vulnerability of Fiordiligi despite her tough posturing. There is a wonderful orgasmic version of Depuis le jour and in the duet from Arabella I find that her tone blends gorgeously with that of Arleen Auger; for once, the two sopranos do not sound alike at all. The first disc concludes with a breathtaking rendition of the Korngold aria, where the natural shimmer in her voice echoes the shimmering orchestration of the composer.

The second CD is mainly made up from a 1977 recital disc of Spanish songs where she was partnered by no less an artist than Alicia de Larrocha. This is filled with some operatic scenes by Granados, and Villa Lobos, and the vocal selections only from Turina’s Canto a Sevilla. The scene from Granados’ Goyescas brings her lovely traversal into comparison with well-esteemed recordings by her compatriots Victoria de los Ángeles and Monsterrat Caballé. I find that Lorengar seems to get more directly into the suffering and loss than the more artful approaches taken by her two famous rivals. My desert Island would need to make room for all three of these recordings or I won’t bother to check in. In the Granados song cycles, the undeniable quality of de Larrocha as a partner makes this into what I would term as “duets for soprano and piano” rather than just accompanied songs. Their respective artistries blend beautifully together as did de los Ángeles and de Larrocha on their famous EMI recording of a live concert from Hunter College, New York in 1973 which contained some of the same pieces as here. Many of the Granados Tonadilas are sung with grace and flamboyance, including wonderful accounts of Iban al piner and Gracia mia. I have often thought that if some enterprising arranger would take the piano accompaniments of these songs and rearrange them for two guitars, the effect would be stunning and sound even more authentically Spanish. It is interesting that in two of the Granados song cycles, Lorengar sings them in a completely different order from that of de los Ángeles. In the two arias of Salud from La Vida Breve, she is in vivid form and I note that no matter how impassioned she is required to be, her voice equals the passion without ever straying into making a non-beautiful sound. The recital closes with a luscious reading of the Turina songs which doesn’t include the vivid instrumental scenes that occur between each song. This was her final recording for Decca in 1983; there was one further recording of Zarzuela duets with Domingo for CBS before she retired. Her final commercial recording was RCA’s 1991 issue of the Gala Lirica concert from Seville in which she was joined by Caballé, Kraus, Berganza, Domingo, Pons and Aragall for an evening of arias to celebrate the opening of Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza for the 1992 World Exposition. In this she gave a still lovely version of La Wally’s Ebben? Ne andrň lontana in which there was only a slight loosening of support in the middle range to hint that she was nearing the end of her career.

I find this release to be a well-thought-out look at an artist who left an invaluable legacy in her recordings. She also made several complete opera recordings which have not lost their appeal in the years since they first appeared. The CD booklet for this release contains a nicely written account of her career by author and musicologist, Alan Blyth. There is a particularly charming photo of her and Teresa Berganza lying down taking a rest together during the recording sessions for the Solti Cosi fan tutte in the 1973-74.

Mike Parr

Previous review: Christopher Howell

CD 1
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohčme: Sě, mi chiamano Mimě (1), La rondine: Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (1), Madama Butterfly: Un bel dě (1), Tu, tu, piccolo Iddio (2), Turandot: Tu che di gel sei cinta (1), Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro (1), Suor Angelica: Senza mamma (2), Tosca: Vissi d’arte (2)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Rusalka: Mĕsíčku na nebi hlubokém (2)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro: E Susanna non vien! … Dove sono I bei momenti (3), Die Zauberflöte: Ach, ich fühl’s (4), Cosě fan tutte: Come scoglio (5)
Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
Louise: Depuis le jour (1)
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen: C’est des contrebandiers … Je dis que rien (1)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Arabella: Er ist der Richtige nicht für mich … Aber der Richtige (3)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser: Dich, teure Halle (3)
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Die tote Stadt: Glück, das mir verlieb (3)

CD 2
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Goyescas: La maja y el ruiseńor (6), 9 Tonadillas (7), 3 Majas dolorosas (7), 6 canciones amatorias (7)
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
La vida breve: Vivan los que rien, Alli está, riyendo (6)
Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949)
Canto a Sevilla: Semana Santa, Las fuentecitas, El fantasma, La Giralda (8)
Performance details
Arleen Auger (soprano, R. Strauss), The Ambrosian Singers (De Falla), Alicia de Larrocha (piano) (7), Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma (1), London Philharmonic Orchestra (2, 5, 6), Wiener Opernorchester (3), Wiener Philharmoniker (4), Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (8)/Giuseppe Patané (1), Jesús López-Cobos (2, 6, 8), Walter Weller (3), Sir Georg Solti (4, 5)

rec. July 1966, Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma (1), September/October 1969, Sofiensaal, Vienna (4), December 1971, Sofiensaal, Vienna (3), July 1973, Kingsway Hall, London (5), December 1978, Kingsway Hall, London (2, 6), July 1977, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, London (7), March 1983, Victoria Hall, Geneva (8)

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