Voices of Our Time [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Bonney with accompanist Malcolm Martineau performs Schumann's Dicterliebe recorded live at the Theatre Musical de Paris - Chatelet in 2001. DVD features include Bonney and Martineau interviews, 16:9 picture, English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish
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Each song or groups of songs is introduced in separately filmed interviews with Miss McNair and Mr Vignoles. These reveal their deep love and understanding of the material at hand and their comments add to the enjoyment of the songs presented.
The first group consists of Duparc's 'Phydilé,' Fauré's 'Au bord de l'eau,' Olivier Messiaen's 'Pourquoi?,' Ravel's 'Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera,' and Debussy's 'Chevaux de bois.' McNair's fluency in French is obvious; further, her love for and affinity for this literature, for which she is well-known, makes this, for me, the most striking of the music heard here. Particularly lovely is her ease with the slightly awkward (but lovely) melodic outline of the Fauré song. And her slightly world-worn manner in Messiaen's 'Pourquoi?' is spot-on. The Ravel is simply delectable. Between the fourth and fifth songs Vignoles plays Satie's second 'Gymnopédie.'
McNair switches to Spanish for de Falla's 'Siete canciones populares españolas.' She tells us that she has only recently begun singing in Spanish but loves to do so because of the 'open vowels and soft consonants' in the language. Certainly, the sophisticated settings of Spanish folk-songs, with their extraordinarily effective (and difficult) piano accompaniments (played with panache by Vignoles) give her the opportunity to display her fluid coloratura (including an exquisite trill), her ease with the language, and her ability to convey a lyric. I particularly liked 'Jota' and 'Polo.' Even better was 'Canción'; the melody and 6/8 rhythm are so infectious I had to stop myself from singing along.
The second half consists entirely of a new song cycle by John Corigliano set to Bob Dylan song lyrics, with original music that makes no reference whatever to Dylan's own melodies for these texts. This is slightly unsettling for anyone familiar with the words, and frankly they do not supersede the originals. They are set in Corigliano's slightly astringent style and do illustrate, sometimes at cross purposes to Dylan's originals, the drama of these texts which are themselves often imbued with bitterness and protest. It does not seem to me that this is a successful venture, although both McNair and Vignoles acquit themselves admirably. I have not been the greatest fan of Corigliano's music and recognize that others more attuned to his style will respond more favorably to the cycle.
For an encore McNair and Vignoles perform the 'Alleluia' from Mozart's 'Exsultate, Jubilate.' McNair's lightning fast fioriture and delicately controlled trill are in full evidence there. The Châtelet audience respond enthusiastically.
The DVD allows for subtitles in English, Spanish, French and Italian. The sound can be heard in regular stereo, Dolby stereo, and DTS 5.0. Camerawork is unobtrusive and expert; the director an editor clearly had the scores well in hand and were able to show what was most important, whether from the singer or the pianist, at appropriate moments. This DVD is part of a 'Voices of Our Time' series that originates at the Théâtre Musical de Paris - Châtelet and already includes recitals by Dawn Upshaw, Barbara Bonney, Grace Bumbry, Ian Bostridge, and Felicity Lott.
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The voice: I will not dwell too long on his voice, which is full and incredibly flexible. His pianissimos are astonishingly beautiful and he can move into falsetto without even a hint of having done it...all with perfect dynamic control. The knowledgeable listener will be transfixed by Hampson's voice.
But his true exception to most concert singers on the stage today is his ability to "sell" the song; to somehow become the composer. Mahler, who spent a lifetime asking the big questions (What is life? Why are we here? What is love? What comes after life?) and who struggled nearly his whole professional career with ferocious anti-Semitism and critics who simply couldn't "get it," is brought to life in this incredible reading of "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." Hampson acts the lyrics as well as sings. His performance is as much visual as it is audial.
Wolfram Rieger, his gifted accompanist, and Hampson have an incredible unity throughout the concert, and the camera spend ample time on him as he absolutely flawlessly conveys truth every subtle phrase. The big concert Steinway makes the sound big, luscious, and more resonant than if a smaller instrument was used.
Before each song, we are treated with a kind of explanation by the artists of their own feelings about the song about to be performed...a wonderful, firsthand way to climb into the moment. Hampson shines in his musicological knowledge and his wonderful gift for language (both English and German). He is not overbearing in the least.
The final "Urlicht," with which Hampson and Rieger chose to end the concert, leaves one gasping for breath and holding back tears (Of joy? Of sadness, knowing Mahler's lifestory?) The final "Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott" (I am from God, and to God I will return) will rip the listener/viewer to shreds. In fact, one sees there is that magical "pregnant pause" at the end, where the audience sits almost in stunned silence before their applause erupts.
The production values are terrific. This video is best seen using a good sound system to go along with your picture.
This is one video which should be an "essential" in anyone's collection of Mahler's music on DVD. Buy and enjoy without trepidation.
This recital is unusual in a couple of respects. The first half of the concert is devoted to Schumann's 'Dichterliebe' and the second half to rarely-heard Scandinavian songs. What's so unusual about 'Dichterliebe,' you ask? Well, it's almost never done by a woman singer. Yes, Lotte Lehmann sang it, and Brigitte Fassbänder recorded it, but it's extremely rare nonetheless because Heinrich Heine's poetry is definitely written from a male perspective and as far as I know the cycle is published only in male voice versions. Still, there are some glorious songs in the set, and frankly who cares if it's a woman singing them? I don't. The first, 'Im wunderschönen Monat Mai' ('In the beautiful month of May') is certainly one of Schumann's most glorious melodies, and Bonney's sweet lyric soprano and her exquisite control make it almost unbearably beautiful. Yet, Bonney is able to sing the more dramatic 'Ich grolle nicht' ('I do not resent') with suitable intensity. This is a more-than-acceptable 'Dichterliebe' even if one can't quite get Fischer-Dieskau's or Fritz Wunderlich's voice out of their mind's ear. Malcolm Martineau handles Schumann's sometimes virtuosic piano accompaniments with panache and sensitivity; he and Bonney make a grand team.
For me it's the second half that is the more attractive because of its rarity, and its closeness to my heart. I have always been attracted to the song literature of Scandinavia, and am particularly fond of the songs of the too-poorly-known Swedish composer, Wilhelm Stenhammar, of which there are five here, interspersed among songs by Sibelius, Grieg, Hugo Alfvén and Carl Sjöberg. Bonney, who for a time was married to Swedish baritone Hakan Hagegard and who lived in Sweden for a number of years, has clear Swedish and Norwegian diction. I've never been terribly fond of Sibelius's 'Diamanten pa Marssnön' ('Diamonds in the March Snow') but it is gorgeously sung here. It is followed by one of my favorite songs, Stenhammar's 'Till en ros' ('To a Rose') and I will admit that Bonney's singing was so beautiful and emotionally true that by the time it was finished I was in tears. Much the same was true for the even more dramatically moving ballad, 'Flickan kom ifran sin älsklings möte' ('A Girl Came from Meeting Her Lover') with its dark and tragic dénouement. Songs I've rarely heard before and which I found quite beautiful were Alfvén's 'Sa tag mit hjerte' ('So Take My Heart') and Grieg's 'Med en vandlilje' ('With a Waterlily'). My heart gladdened with old friends like Grieg's 'Jeg elsker Dig' ('I Love You,' but perhaps better known in its German version, 'Ich liebe Dich') and the 'perfect song' (Bonney's appropriate description), Stenhammar's 'I skogen' ('In the Woods'). I'd never heard Sjögren's 'Tonerna' ('Music') except on an old Swedish recording by Jussi Björling and I must say it really ought to be in the core song repertoire; it is certainly as moving as Schubert's 'An die Musik' ('On Music').
For encores Bonney and Martineau give us Schumann's 'Der Nussbaum' ('The Nut Tree') and Alfvén's 'Skogen sover' ('The Woods Sleep'). And perhaps as a gift for the Parisian audience, one song in French, Liszt's 'Oh! Quand je dors' ('Oh, when I sleep') sung rapturously.
There are interspersed interview snippets with Bonney and Martineau, and there are subtitles available in English, French, Spanish and Italian. Sound is available in stereo, Dolby stereo and DTS 5.0.
A wonderful disc that I heartily recommend to lovers of great songs sung beautifully.