Bernstein; Copland; Heggie

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COMPOSERS: Bernstein; Copland; Heggie
LABELS: Eloquentia
ALBUM TITLE: Bernstein; Copland; Heggie: Songs and Poems
WORKS: Various songs and poems
PERFORMER: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano); Frances Shelly (flute), David Zobel (piano)Eloquentia EL 0504 (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CATALOGUE NO: EL 0504
The American mezzo Joyce DiDonato, who has been winning golden opinions in opera and early music, makes her recorded recital debut on a disc of American songs from the small French company Eloquentia, decently balanced in a slightly unhelpful church acoustic and handsomely presented. She displays a strong sense of character and drama, perhaps not yet matched by her response to all the details of a text; her voice is attractive over a wide range, but above mezzo forte the upper register seems somewhat raw and not fully integrated.

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DiDonato and the French pianist David Zobel make a strong case for Leonard Bernstein’s little known Two Love Songs, settings of Rilke in translation with voluble piano parts, and for presenting numbers from the voices-and-orchestra cycle Songfest in piano reduction. It’s good too to have Jake Heggie’sThe Deepest Desire, sympathetic settings of religious poems by Sister Helen Prejean with an eloquent contribution from the flautist Frances Shelly.

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The centrepiece of the recital is Copland’s cycle of Emily Dickinson settings, which is sung and played with vivid characterisation, perhaps occasionally straying too far towards operatic declamation. In contrast, Barbara Bonney and André Previn on Decca, now at mid-price, underplay some of Copland’s fortissimos in a small-scale reading of great charm but insufficient power. But Susan Chilcott, in what was sadly to be her last recording, and Iain Burnside get right to the heart of this visionary masterpiece. Anthony Burton