The voice of this lovely singer is now in its freshest full bloom. These years, the early middle period, of a singer's career ought to be cherished and relished like the fine days of our fickle summer. Yet we have an ungrateful way of passing them over with a forward look towards the things of autumn, the mellow fruitfulness of the mature interpreter, the ripeness of art that knows all shades of expression from the most playful to the most profound. Listening to this record, I find the critical habit urging me on to commit this kind of folly. In the very first song, Dowland's Come again, one is already preparing to go and look for Janet Baker's record (HMV HQS1091, 7/67); in Liszt's Die drei Zigeuner the ineffaceable memory of SchwarzkopfRead more interposes. And it is true: there are limitations to the success of this delightful record. By comparison with Schwarzkopf there is something passive and underlit about the story-telling in that song; just as Baker's exceptionally strong projection and rhythmic vitality make von Stade's singing of Conte again seem placidly hymn-like, wanting sharpness of flavour (and sometimes of consonant also). There is a limit, too, to the success of The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, the dynamics less imaginatively judged than in Britten's edition of the piece, and with a rather square regularity in the pacing of recitative. But how sad if because of this one were to miss the tender absorption of von Stade's performance here, or the lovely pianissimo of such phrases as "flattering hopes, farewell". What a loss, too, if the second side of the record were to go unheard because of the qualified success of the first. The Bilitis songs have the most winning feminity, "La chevelure" drawing from the singer a richer, more sensual tone, while a new darkness colours the satyres' obituary in the last song (and, if reassurance is needed, it should be added that Martin Katz accompanies more sensitively than he did in the recording by Marilyn Home some years ago—Decca SXL6577, 6/74). Then comes the set of four French folk songs arranged by Canteloube of the Auvergne: magically evocative, and bolder in the projection of personality. Finally, a touching, quite simple American song, addressed to Jenny Rebecca ("four days old"), serves as an encore piece, allowing the voice to settle and linger graciously in the mind. Von Stade is already an accomplished recitalist, though she will no doubt come to communicate more vividly and imaginatively on record. Meanwhile, here is one of the finest singers of the younger generation, her voice in that precious early summertime condition, fresh-toned and beautifully placed: a fine, admirably recorded, first song recital, and, one hopes, the first of many.
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