Baritone Jonathan Lemalu, the young Samoan-New Zealander who won the coveted Royal Philharmonic Society prize for best newcomer in 2001, chooses songs of journeying, homesickness and humanity for his contribution to the excellent EMI Début series. He is full of fire and joyful ambition, traits that register themselves in a willingness to open his throat and show off the glory of his beautifully varnished tone. His execution of Finzi's "Rollicum-rorum" or Schubert's "Der Schiffer" with its whipping dissonances and Krug-swinging lilt are irresistible, his diction exemplary. He renders John Ireland's setting of John Masefield's "Sea Fever" as if he had tasted the spume himself. He is, however, a little too sparing with his sotto voce
, which he uses with telling effect in Finzi's lovely "Lizbie Browne" and Fauré's wispy cycle L'Horizon chimérique
, but could have employed elsewhere, notably in the first of Brahms' Four Serious Songs
, which lacks the timorous whisper that comes upon flesh in contemplation of death. Pianist Roger Vignoles is at all times a sensitive and obliging chaperone, providing surreptitious atmosphere that the singer unwittingly assumes. Vignoles' touch in Schubert's "Der Wanderer" expresses a certain traveller's world-weariness that the young Lemalu shares but can hardly have experienced yet for himself. He's at his best when rollicking. --Rick Jones
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