Kate Royal: Midsummer Night

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Alwyn,Barber,Britten,Dvorak,Floyd,Herrmann & Korngold,Lehar,Messager,Stravinsky,Walton
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Arias by Alwyn, Stravinsky, Walton, Floyd, Dvorák, Britten, Lehár, Barber, Messager, Herrmann & Korngold
PERFORMER: Kate Royal (soprano); Crouch End Festival Chorus; English National Opera Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: 268 1922

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In earlier recitals Kate Royal’s lustrous soprano has invited comparisons with that of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and so it does in this imaginative programme, conducted by fellow wunderkind Edward Gardner. The result, though, is something of a mixed bag, often impressive but never quite as overwhelming as it should be.

Indeed, this disc highlights the perennial difficulty facing young singers in long recitals – superbly as they sing, the pieces sound too much alike. Royal delivers the Walton aria from Troilus and Cressida eloquently, but without Janet Baker’s emotional identification, and in the Peter Grimes excerpt her Ellen Orford, though ringingly fervent, pales somewhat alongside Thomas Allen’s darkly nuanced Balstrode. And finely as she phrases, her diction – again like Schwarzkopf – is frequently sacrificed to creamy sound.

Royal also shares Schwarzkopf’s tendency to mannered delivery, with a breathy, portamento-heavy, almost bluesy quality that suits Carlisle Floyd’s plangently beautiful Susannah aria very well, and perhaps also the Barber, but others less so.

Her vibrato, too, is frequently exaggerated by Gardner’s over‑indulgent tempos; Marietta’s Song from Die tote Stadt positively wallows. ‘Vilja’ from Lehár’s Merry Widow survives, though, and others, including Susannah, the Turn of the Screw Tower Scene and the Bernard Herrmann aria, are very fine.

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It’s perhaps fortunate that exceptional as she is, Royal still has room to develop. Michael Scott Rohan