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Royal Mezzo - Barber: Andromache's Farewell; Britten: Phaedra; Ravel, Berlioz / Kalmar, Et Al

Release Date: 06/10/2008 
Label:  Cedille Records   Catalog #: 104   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Samuel BarberHector BerliozMaurice RavelBenjamin Britten
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore
Conductor:  Carlos Kalmar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BARBER Andromache’s Farewell. BERLIOZ La mort de Cléopâtre. RAVEL Shéhérazade. BRITTEN Phaedra Jennifer Larmore (mez); Carlos Kalmar, cond; Grant Park O ÇEDILLE 104 (67:15)

I regularly read several opera blogs, and I am curious as to why Jennifer Larmore’s name is not mentioned Read more more frequently. Perhaps she is not scandalous enough, but then the scandal lies with us for not paying more attention to her. Every now and then I pick up one of her older recordings, and I am always impressed with her versatility and her musicianship, to say nothing of the voice itself.

This CD, however, made me sit up and take notice, because—on the basis of what I am hearing here—it is obvious that Larmore is a mezzo-soprano currently on top of her game in every possible way. Perhaps it took the Jim Ginsburg/Çedille Records touch to make it all come out on disc. Judging from Larmore’s comments in my interview with her, there’s probably no underestimating how helpful a great producer can be, and that seems to have been the case with this release.

The program is unique, of course, and very appropriate, although I do think it takes a little hand waving to squeeze Shéhérazade in with Andromache, Cléopâtre, and Phaedra. I can think of only two other singers who might have tackled a similar program—Janet Baker and Jessye Norman. Larmore, while she doesn’t make you forget those singers, does make these four royal personages her very own, at least for the length of the CD.

Indeed, Larmore is at her best when she is “sinking her teeth” into the dramatic opportunities afforded by these works. Her Andromache is a flood of conflicting emotions—everything from tenderness to the bitterest contempt, and she really makes the words count. No matter what her emotions are, though, the voice remains regal, which is as it should be. Martina Arroyo’s pioneering recording is very fine, but it is Larmore who shows the greater emotional range.

Larmore finds a warmer, more sensual, but no less regal sound for Berlioz’s Cléopâtre, hinting perhaps at the character’s innate flaws. It is in this work that she creates a sound quite similar to that of Jessye Norman, although it would be wrong to suggest that Larmore is just imitating Norman. Through no fault of its own, the orchestra is less successful than the singer in creating an authentically French sound. Still, the players are on their toes, and it is hard to be disappointed with their contribution.

Shéhérazade has been recorded many, many times, and by now, most of us have favorite versions. (Mine is Crespin’s, with Ansermet.) Larmore’s voice is not quite as opulent as that of some other singers who have tackled this music. Furthermore, others have realized the wide-eyed innocence of the first song more convincingly, and also the sexual languor of the last song. Again, though, one is impressed by how much thought Larmore has put into the text. When the fantasy turns dark in the first song, with talk of “smiling assassins,” Larmore’s voice turns dark too, and she even seems to shudder. A more opulent sound from the orchestra also would have been welcome.

In Britten’s Phaedra , which closes the CD, Larmore doesn’t compete with Janet Baker. Instead, she rethinks the piece, turning it into a fully formed operatic scena , minus the opera. Larmore’s sensual, dramatic interpretation makes the music more immediate, and she sounds confident with the music’s melodic complexities.

My prerelease copy of the CD didn’t come with a booklet, so I can’t comment on the accompanying materials. Çedille always does this sort of thing well, though, so I wouldn’t worry. The engineering is excellent, and there are no unwanted traces of the program’s live origins, although something of the electricity associated with live performances fortunately remains intact.

Highly recommended, but you probably figured that out already!

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Andromache's Farewell, Op. 39 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Carlos Kalmar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; USA 
Length: 13 Minutes 17 Secs. 
La mort de Cléopâtre by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Carlos Kalmar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829; France 
Length: 20 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Carlos Kalmar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Length: 17 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Phaedra, Op. 93 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Carlos Kalmar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975; England 
Length: 14 Minutes 45 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Andromache's Farewell, Op. 39
La mort de Cleopatre: Recitative: C'en est donc fait! ma honte est assuree
La mort de Cleopatre: Lento cantabile - Ah! qu'ils sont loin ces jours, tourment de ma memoire
La mort de Cleopatre: Largo misterioso - Grands Pharaons, nobles Lagides
La mort de Cleopatre: Allegro assai agitato - Non! ... non, de vos demeures funebres
Sheherazade: I. Asie
Sheherazade: II. La flute enchantee
Sheherazade: III. L'indifferent
Phaedra, Op. 93

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