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But Ms Fleming betrays the limits of her imagination in the French and Russian works which, along with the other songs here, are set to poetry that celebrates the charms of evening life. For her, there is no difference whatsoever between Rachmaninoff and Fauré, or Strauss and Debussy; one song sounds pretty much the same as the next. Her delivery is often shrill, unnaturally coy and interpretively forced, while she rejects genuine quiescence in favor of a thrilling overall sheen. The incessant, even incisive brightness of her approach only compromises the melancholy that lies just beneath the music's savvy surfaces. In Debussy's intensely poignant Beau Soir, for example, she fails to interiorize its world of autumnal regrets with the wistful, nearly off-stage languor both the text and its compositional conflicts demand. Instead of bringing the listener into its orbit with minute inflections, Ms Fleming satisfies and assuages the ear with pristinely adjudicated surfaces.

And though her readings of Rachmaninoff are in fact quite beautiful in their own right, distinguished as they are by an imaginative rubato, they remain only superficially elegant. In fact, she is totally out of her depth in Rachmaninoff, in spite of an admirably defined and expertly manipulated chest voice. That is in part due to her Americanized Russian diction, which, though hardly unintelligible, adversely affects inflection and even rhythm. Indeed, she seems unable to properly vocalize the peculiar sound of the yerih; fails utterly to distinguish between palatized and non-palatized consonants, is uncomfortable with the flattened short vowel 'e' and the fat, fruity Os which, in the context of a stressed syllable, must sound like an exaggerated 'aw' in 'awesome'. Nor does she grasp the specific traditions indispensable to bringing the music to life. Zdes Khorosho (It is Beautiful Here) [listen -- track 19, 0:00 -- 0:41], for example, bears nothing of the weight of the personal tragedy it represents; Ms Fleming's voice, especially on top, is rather too thin to contain its pain, much less convey it. Likewise, in V molchani nochi taynoi (In the Silence of Mysterious Night) her otherwise sturdy instrument wants desperately for the opulence that a singer trained in the idiom of this music would invest in it, while Mr Thibaudet's flimsy accompaniments are thoroughly misinformed. More puzzling still is Ms Fleming's oddly timorous approach to musical climax [listen -- track 20, 1:20 -- 2:18], which she renders with an almost perfunctory air; there is a certain reluctance on her part to make of climaxes, particularly in this music, something so intense and inevitable as to transfigure themselves into a matter of life and death. She attenuates those points of arrival, which give weight to valuable compositional events. In any case, she is no match for Joanna Poracková, whose forthcoming disc on the Americus label with Dag Achatz of these and other Rachmaninoff songs will provide Ms Fleming an object lesson in just what is required of this music.

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Copyright © 16 June 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA






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