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Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – Diana Damrau

By (October 2, 2013) No Comment

5099960266620_MDiana Damrau: Forever

This is the critical fortnight in September when labels launch vocal albums for the Christmas market and critics cower beneath the bed hoping they will go away. All the big names are out there, from Domingo to Donato, and most are doing just what you’d expect. Except Diana Damrau, who lands on my deck like an untimely spring breeze.

The Bavarian soprano usually covers mainstream opera from Mozart to Strauss with a dash of big Italian roles. Here, she dips into operetta, but with a personal twist. Aside from a handful of Johann Strauss, Lehar and Kalman, she sings mid-20th century Broadway rep, some in English, some in German. To my ears, My Fair Lady is much improved auf Deutsch (and with a burglar-scaring squeak), though Sweeney Todd stumbles a bit and Ms D does Andrew Lloyd Webber a favour by choosing Queen’s English for an aria from Phantom of the Aria, perhaps the most musical rendition it has ever received. David Charles Abell conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in top-notch sound and the only regret is the superfluous, expensive inclusion of a brittle-voiced Rolando Villazon in the Merry Widow duet.

The album’s best is saved for first, and last – a pair of Vocalises by film writers Wojciech Kilar and Frédéric Chaslin, wordless songs where the voice soars free and the singer stamps her own emotions on the song. Irresistible.

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.