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CD of the Week – Anu Komsi

Anu Komsi: Coloratura
Bis

Vanity apart, there are only two credible reasons for releasing or reviewing a solo vocal recital. Either the music must be unfamiliar and powerful, or the singer must be possessed of a voice so extraordinary that there is no better way of appreciating it than in this concentrated form. Anu Komsi’s recital fits both bills.

Komsi is a Finnish artist who plays roles no other soprano can reach, mainly because they are way out of their league – too high, too complex, too dangerous. She’s had roles written for her in operas by George Benjamin, James Dillon and Peter Eotvos and she has a summer festival on the west coast of Finland that regularly cuts the edge. She is conducted here (with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra) by her husband, Sakari Oramo, chief conductor of the Stockholm Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony.

The opening track, a wordless concerto for coloratura and orchestra by the half-forgotten Russian Reinhold Glière (1875-1956), is a guaranteed window-breaker – high, loud and a perfectly lovely assault on the senses. It is followed by the mad scene from Ambroise Thomas’s opera Hamlet and the outworn Bell Song from Delibes’s Lakmé, once dragged through an airport in a British Airways and yet here sounding rejuvenated.

I could have done without the Queen of the Night aria from Magic Flute, written for Mozart’s sister-in-law; nobody ever saves their best work for the in-laws. It does nothing to prepare your ears for the exhilarating wackiness of John Zorn’s 11-minute monodrama, La Machine de l’etre, a track that puts Komsi in the Cathy Berberian bracket of versatility. She closes, serenely on home turf, with Sibelius’s Luonnotar. The disc is more than the sum of its parts. It presents a unique artist, uniquely in her element. Of how many records can you say that?

3 violin concerto CDs

Brahms, Berg
Virgin

Renaud Capucon’s account of the sombre Berg concerto, written in memory of a dead teenager, goes straight to the top of the pile. Making no concession for atonal asperities, it treats the work for what it is – a romantic concept in a modern form. The Brahms is sweetly done, if less decisive. Daniel Harding conducts the Vienna Philharmonic.

Schumann
Hyperion

Schumann wrote a violin concerto his friend Joseph Joachim that went missing for 80 years. It lacks the warmth and conviction of his cello concerto and Anthony Marwood’s austere interpretation adds little to its charms. Nor is the violin adaptation of the cello concerto, played here by Marwood with equal severity, a match for the lush original.

Mendelssohn
Hyperion

Alina Ibragimova is fast, lean and edgy in the famous E minor concerto, pitched against the organic timbre of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. A refreshing change from over-sweet accounts, it will not be to everyone’s taste. In the earlier, less-played D minor concerto, the orchestra sounds idiomatically more comfortable and the soloist is scarcely challenged.

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Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.

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