Previn, Copland, Argento & Barber

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COMPOSERS: Argento & Barber,Copland,Previn
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: American Songs
WORKS: Works by Previn, Copland, Argento & Barber
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney (soprano)André Previn (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 455 511-2
The success of Barbara Bonney’s European career has led her to suspend for a while the nourishment of her own musical root-system. Now, as part of the strong and continuing jet-stream of releases of American song, she contributes an irresistible recital of her own to the catalogue.

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Billy the Kid is celebrated in a new work by the recital’s pianist, André Previn: tiny, tender prose extracts as the prostitute Sallie Chisum remembers Billy. Dominick Argento, America’s prose-setter par excellence, enjoys poetry here: this, the overdue first recording of his Six Elizabethan Songs, typically fuses the ease of inevitability with constantly imaginative unpredictability. Bonney’s own ‘gift to be simple’ ensures outstanding performances, too, of Copland’s Emily Dickinson settings and Barber’s Hermit Songs.

Tracey Chadwell’s soprano was distinguished by a similar purity, agility and intensity of communication to Bonney’s; but Chadwell died of leukaemia in 1996 aged 36, leaving no solo CD. The BBC archives were raided to produce this double album, remarkable not only for the beauty and intelligence of its performances, but for the rare anthology of contemporary British music it showcases. Four of its 11 works were written specially for Chadwell: Elizabeth Maconchy’s witty Auden and MacNeice settings, Nicola LeFanu’s spare yet thrillingly virtuoso ‘I am Bread’, David Lumsdaine’s Norfolk Songbook and Gillian Whitehead’s Maori Awa Herea cycle.

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Renée Fleming’s recital of songs and arias does, indeed, show off The Beautiful Voice, but this portmanteau of sentiment from The Merry Widow to Strauss’s ‘Morgen’, from ‘Songs my Mother Taught Me’ to Songs of the Auvergne also reveals an only generalised engagement with the music’s changing idioms on the part of both Fleming and the ECO.