Wagner, Britten, R Strauss, Quilter, Rorem

COMPOSERS: Britten,Quilter,R Strauss,Rorem,Wagner
ALBUM TITLE: Susan Bullock
WORKS: Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder; Prokofiev: Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova; Britten: The Poet’s Echo; plus songs by R Strauss, Quilter & Rorem
PERFORMER: Susan Bullock (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Now the finest British dramatic soprano of her generation, Susan Bullock has yet to be heard in her homeland as Brünnhilde, though she impressed as Isolde at English National Opera and Elektra is on the cards at Covent Garden next season. Few voices of this kind scale down effectively in song recital, but Bullock has a spectrum of vocal colours which she puts at intelligent service of the text – and in Malcolm Martineau she has a pianist to match her sensitivities. Together they sound subtle depths in the closing songs of Prokofiev’s Akhmatova setting (in ‘The Grey-Eyed King’ capturing to perfection its odd atmosphere of restrained tragedy) and in Benjamin Britten’s Pushkin cycle The Poet’s Echo, where the piano’s time-ticking hauntingly offsets the meditations of Pushkin’s sleepless night. The German stretch of the recital balances sweet early Strauss, lightly shorn of potential archness in ‘Begegnung’, with the ambitions of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, though here Bullock wisely keeps a more declamatory manner and dark tone-colour in check until the last line of ‘Stehe still!’, and the rhetoric of ‘Schmerzen’ is unforced. Quilter’s noble rapture and the candour of Rorem’s lighter settings add further dimensions to a marvellous programme. Comparisons with other singers – Flagstad in the orchestral version of the Wesendonck Lieder, Vishnevskaya in the Russian songs – are kept at bay by this singer’s individuality and her very personal response to the texts. The only pity is that the recorded sound in Crear’s ‘working space’ (in Argyll, Scotland) keeps the perfect partnership at a distance and on its toes in a dryish somewhat natural acoustic. David Nice