A Glistening Treasury
Songs with orchestra
from Deborah Riedel -
'... a bounteous seam of unfamiliar, wholly blissful vocal gems ...'
How I came to know the 'galant' tune and words of James Hook's 'Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill' while still at primary school remains a mystery to this day.
Listen -- James Hook: The Lass of Richmond Hill
(track 1, 0:18-0:45) © 2008 Melba Recordings
I shudder to think what my classmates; pint-sized 'wanabee' rugby footballers made of it when my clear, thin soprano voice was heard as I sang 'I'd crowns resign to call her mine' before a roomful of pre-pubescent boys and neat, giggling, pigtailed girls.
Hook's 'Sweet lass ... ' is the first of these 21 ditties and together they evoke an era in total contrast to the runaway complexities of our post-1914 global village.
The CD offers rare Italian, French and English opera arias, many receiving world première recordings for the Richard Bonynge Archive. Here's a diverse mix of composers from late eighteenth century masters such as Domenico Cimarosa to little known songwriters -- Girolamo Crescentini, Nicolas Dalayrac and Charles Edward Horn.
Listen -- Charles Edward Horn: Cherry Ripe
(track 5, 0:18-0:39) © 2008 Melba Recordings
As many as half of these composers are substantially forgotten -- the unquestionable exceptions are Giovanni Paisiello, William Boyce, Thomas Arne, Johann Christian Bach, Vicente Martin y Soler, and André Grétry. What's more the items are slender -- the shortest 2'03", the lengthiest 5'03".
Hook (1746-1827) wrote upward of two thousand songs and in and around London was much regarded as a composer, teacher and performer.
Prolific Neopolitan composer Paisiello (1740-1816) enjoyed widespread popularity throughout western Europe becoming court composer to Ferdinand IV of Naples.
The popular air, 'Nel cor più non mi sento' from his opera La bella molinara was transcribed as 'Hope told a flatt'ring tale' for two flutes and harp by Anglo/Corsican harpist Joseph Mazzinghi (1765-1844).
Listen -- Paisiello/Mazzinghi: Hope Told a Flatt'ring Tale
(track 2, 0:01-0:59) © 2008 Melba Recordings
Paganini also borrowed 'Nel cor più non mi sento in G major' for his fiendishly difficult violin showpiece Introduction, theme and variations.
Australian-born soprano Deborah Riedel studied at New South Wales Conservatorium of Music (Sydney). At the same time major awards enabled her to study in Europe while taking on varied operatic roles throughout Australia.
In 1994 she made her USA début as Amina in La sonnambula, the first of several roles for San Diego Opera. Further American engagements have taken her to the Met and San Francisco Opera.
Riedel assumed leading rôles with such companies as the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opéra National de Paris, Opéra de Bordeaux and Aix-en-Provence, the Opera di Roma, Nederlandse Opera, Bavarian and Vienna State Operas, Royal Opera (Covent Garden), and Welsh National Opera.
Her recordings include Lehár's Giuditta and Paganini with Richard Bonynge (Telarc), Zeisl's Requiem Ebraico, the title-rôle in Die Herzogin von Chicago with Bonynge (Decca), and again with Bonynge (born 1930) The Power of Love, a début CD (Melba Recordings).
With this romantic/relational repertory Riedel appears very much at home -- indeed her vibrant tonal clarity, dynamic nuances, and unaffected lyrical enunciation are a delight across all three languages.
But don't assume all is mere confection such as that of the popular title song; Charles Horn's Cherry Ripe. The typical recurring subject is disavowed, disallowed or thwarted love.
In J C Bach's concerto-like 'Privo del Mio Tesoro' from the 1776 cantata Cefalo e Procri the soprano is almost defiant in her grief while Paga fui by Mannheim-born Peter von Winter opens with a contrasting somber opening verse. Listen for Riedel's low key sforzando as the first line is repeated.
Listen -- Peter von Winter: Paga fui (Il Ratto di Proserpina)
(track 9, 0:29-1:11) © 2008 Melba Recordings
Operatic orchestral music of the period presents little in the way of technical hurdles. Instead it requires interpretive cognizance and empathy with the singer. The 26-member Arcadia Lane Orchestra is perfectly suited to music lapping at either side of 1800 and fine first desk instrumentalists abound, notably the lead violin and principal horn.
With Sento mancarmi l'Anima by Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846) we find ourselves at the perimeter of 'Golden Age' Italian opera. Renowned as a 'castrato mezzo' Crescentini became professor of singing to the Court of Vienna where Napoleon himself paid the musician a 'von Karajan magnitude' salary as maestro to the Imperial family.
Listen -- Johann Simon Mayr: Ingemisco (Gran Messa da Requiem)
(track 14, 3:34-4:56) © 2008 Melba Recordings
A representative example of Church music is heard in the penitent 'Ingemisco' (Latin, meaning: to groan, sigh over) from Gran Messa da Requiem by Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845) while hard on its heel are two Mozartian songs from opera buffe by Cimarosa.
First of these is 'La Donna che e amante' from Giannina e Bernardone, with its dual moods followed by 'Il mio cor gli Affetti miei'; a rondo in which undeviating lyrics rail at tyrannical love and its cruelty.
Explanatory notes, colorful artwork/lithographs (from the Bonynge Archive), and full texts with translations are a 'given' when Australia's nonpareil label releases new work.
In short Melba's 'Richard Bonynge Edition' is distinguished by its incomparable production values. With this enterprising 2008 digital programme, Deborah Riedel reveals a bounteous seam of unfamiliar, wholly blissful vocal gems -- a glistening treasury of song.
Copyright © 25 January 2009
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand
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CD INFORMATION: CHERRY RIPE - VOCAL TREASURES