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CD of the Week – Renée Fleming: Poèmes

Renée Fleming: Poèmes
Decca

How do I hate this record? Let me count the ways.

1. Ms. Fleming appears on the cover in silken black curtain material, borrowed to all appearances from a reputable funeral parlour. Or a Second World War surplus store. Or Abu Ghraib. Either way, she’s telling you she’s not having fun, and nor will you.

2. She has completely the wrong voice for Ravel’s Shéhérezade, none of the required shimmer of mystery. Beside the enchanted flute, she is a Chevvy in a carwash, an American in a Chateau-Lafite winery ordering bottled Coke.

3. She’s not helped by Alan Gilbert’s scrappy valet service with the Radio France orchestra, all hustle, no shades of suggestion.

4. Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi are intimate odes to his first wife, whispered in her ear. Ms Fleming declaims. The orchestra blares. The listener begs for relief.

5. A new set of songs by Henri Dutileux fares better, thanks to the superior Orchestre National de France and Seiji Ozawa’s sense of shading. But Dutilleux is no writer for voice, dull and dutiful at best. Curiosity is not aroused.

6. Six different sound engineers are credited for the general acoustic murk. They were working from live performances in bad halls. They are not generally to blame. Decca should have dismissed the tapes as substandard. The executive producer was Ben Pateman. I guess he takes the rap.

7. Articulation. There is none. Just a blur of occasional syllables. Lucky they printed the words in the booklet.

8. The booklet article, in praise of Ms Fleming, announces that ‘all singing is story-telling’. There’s no story here.

9. The booklet comes in a fiddly folder and does not fit back.

10. It all gets worse on second hearing. Enjoy.

Something more esoteric?

Modern Times
BR Klassik

Christian Immler sings Weimar-era ironies by Schreker, Korngold, Zemlinsky, Eisler and others, including my old friend Berthold Goldschmidt. A thoughtful compilation, every syllable clear as water, accompanied with delicate touch by Helmut Deutsch.



Martin Shaw: The Airmen
Delphian

Almost forgotten outside the Anglican church for which he wrote much liturgy, Martin Shaw (1875-1958) was a songwriter in the Vaughan Williams mode. This cycle, a bucolic reflection on two world wars, is put together by the pianist Iain Burnside and eloquently sung by Sophie Bevan, Andrew Kennedy and Roderick Williams. A real find.

Eighth Blackbird: Lonely Motel
Cedille

The composer Steve Mackey is on the way to inventing a new American cabaret. These songs are the inner meditations of a lovesick shrink with pastiche references to Dowland, Stravinsky and the Beatles. Much fun to be had (except by the shrink) and eight versatile musicians makes the most of it.