BBC Legends – Janet Baker

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Barringcloe
A Divine Hymn – Jehova reigns
Fauré
Cinq mélodies, Op.58 – Mandoline; En sourdine
Soir, Op.83/2
Fleur jetée, Op.39/2
Gounod
Sérénade
Gratiani
Velut palma, velut rosa
Handel
Joshua – O had I Jubal’s lyre
Humfrey
Wilt thou forgive that sin (A Hymne to God the Father)
Monteverdi
Quel sguardo sdegnosetto
Sí dolce è’l tormento
Maledetto sia l’aspetto
Purcell
Bonduca – O lead me to some peaceful gloom
Sir Anthony Love – Pursing Beauty
Theodosius – Ah! Cruel, bloody fate
Schubert
Schwestergruss, D762
Claudine von Villa Bella, D239 – Liebe schwärmt auf allen Wegen; Hin und wieder friegen Pfeile
An die untergehende Sonne, D457
Epistel: Herrn Josef Spaun, D749

Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano) & Raymond Leppard (harpsichord & piano) with Joy Hall (cello)

Recorded on 14 June 1971 at the Aldeburgh Festival

Also included is a 9-minute track recorded in 1969 in London, Janet Baker in conversation with Marjorie Anderson


Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
BBCL 4218-2
Duration: 77 minutes

If this recital seems familiar to you, it may be because it was issued in 1996 with the “BBC Music Magazine”, Vol. 4, No.7. The new release adds the interview, and the booklet has a short note. In neither case are the texts included (but these are downloadable!). The sound is good, with perhaps a bit more warmth in Paul Baily’s BBC Legends re-mastering. The CD deserves wider circulation, for Baker and Leppard have included some unusual fare.

A listener’s reaction to a voice is so personal: to the basic sound, that is, before one listens to how the voice is being used. Sometimes we grow to like, or dislike, the sound; at other times and impression is made immediately. With some singers, that impression is no impression: the voice just is, neither attractive nor displeasing. I succumbed to Janet Baker’s sound on the first occasion that I heard it, and over many years since my opinion has not altered.

Many are the instances in this Aldeburgh Festival recital when I just relish the timbre, be the lady bringing vitality and colour to the Monteverdi pieces, especially the second and third, or in Gratiani’s cantata, in whose eight minutes slow sections alternate with those in a quicker tempo, or when a solemnity imbues the ‘hymne’ “Wilt Thou forgive” by the short-lived Pelham Humfrey; even when sadness pervades, as in Schubert’s “Schwestergruss”, involving the dead sister’s spirit. Baker sings this with quiet intensity.

Janet BakerIf, however, a singer relies purely on one sound, a recital can become monotonous in both senses. Janet Baker (a mezzo-soprano not a soprano as the annotation for this release has it) can introduce differing shades, varying emphases, without distorting her tone. In the five Schubert items, “Schwestergruss” and the subdued “An die untergehende Sonne”, this latter sung with volume reduced, tone softened, flank the two short arias from the unfinished ‘singspiel’, which are light and quick-moving. Baker adjusts her approach and vocal colours to suit the different settings.

In line with the Claudine pieces is the Purcellian hymn by the mysterious Mr Barringcloe, whose dates and Christian name are unknown. His is a joyous piece lasting two and a half minutes, with Baker catching the exultant expression. In contrast, she conveys Bonduca’s opposing thoughts, from peaceful gloom to triumphant glory, while in “Ah! Cruel, bloody fate” she calmly delivers the humour of the last three lines of this strophic song.

Does she use a little too much voice in Fauré’s “Soir”, and is Gounod’s “Sérénade” somewhat on the slow side, missing the airiness that seems essential? She omits one of the three verses. Throughout the Handel aria she trips with happy step, notes clearly articulated and with touches of decoration in the da capo.

This is a very enjoyable recital, presenting the serious and light-hearted sides of Janet Baker’s artistry, and she really is in excellent voice. Raymond Leppard, whether on harpsichord or piano, proves a worthy partner, adding pleasing flourishes in some of the early pieces. Joy Hall provides excellent support to the harpsichord.

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