Kiri Te Kanawa – 24 November

Ridente la calma, K152
An Chloe, K524
Abendempfindung, K529
Un moto di gioia, K579
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, Op.34/2
Nacht und Träume
Gretchen am Spinnrade
Die Nacht Op.10/3
Allerseelen Op.10/8
All’ mein Gedanken, Op.21/2
Cäcilie, Op.27/2
Villanelle; Le spêctre de la rose; L’île inconnue (from Les nuits d’été, Op.7)
Voyage à Paris
Les chemins de l’amour (Valse chantée)
La vie antérieure
Chanson triste

Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) &
Julian Reynolds (piano)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 24 November, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Kiri Te Kanawa reaches her 60th birthday next year and no doubt there will be appropriate celebrations, along with CD re-issues, to mark that milestone.

On the direct evidence of this recital, it is sad to have to report that her voice is no longer what it was. That celebrated and distinctive timbre, with its creamy and velvet quality, was not in frequent attendance – indeed, only in her third and final encore, Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro”, sung with a touching nostalgia, was the familiar tone-quality consistently evident and sustained.

Not that Dame Kiri made her task particularly easy, given the exacting nature of the chosen programme, which cannot be undertaken without sure technique and supreme confidence.In the opening Mozart group, she certainly had the requisite skill to negotiate the often quite tricky turns of phrase, and her ability to reach, with easeful grace, notes at the bottom and top of the range, was unimpaired. But the rather dry quality of her lower notes, the difficulty she appeared to have with certain vowel sounds (the i/ee in particular) and the tendency to sing just on the flat side of the note were all sad reminders that age does no favours to the human voice.

These particular deficiencies, it needs to be said, were features which were noticeable throughout this evening which turned out to have about an hour’s worth of music once entrances and exits, the late start and protracted interval are excluded.

Perhaps predictably, the gentler items were, on the whole, the more successful. Mendelssohn’s ubiquitous “On wings of song” which, as we were reminded in the helpful programme notes, quite fails to plumb the depths of Heine’s poem, was delightfully sung, with even delivery and secure line.

The more telling demands of Schubert and Richard Strauss were not so easily conveyed, with “Gretchen am Spinnrade” lacking the requisite intensity; the necessary amplitude for “Die Nacht” and “Cäcilie” was also sadly absent.

It was interesting to hear the three songs from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été in their original garb with piano, rather than the much more familiar orchestral version, but “Villanelle” would have been more comfortable for Dame Kiri in a lower key, and “L’île inconnue” failed to convey the exuberant sweep of Berlioz’s setting. The darker repose of “Le spêctre de la rose” was much more successful, as were, collectively, the Poulenc settings.

With their dexterity and hints of the nightclub, these songs were most convincingly delivered, suggesting this is a repertoire that Dame Kiri might do well to investigate further. She was able to evoke a dusky tone, and she conveyed the slightly sleazy sentiments of “Les chemins de l’amour” admirably. The relish with which she sang ’Je ne veux pas travailler je veux fumer’ (I don’t want to work I want to smoke) at the end of Hôtel was quite captivating. Kiri Te Kanawa has certainly not lost her communicative gifts.

Regrettably, the Duparc songs once again drew attention to the shortcomings that are not necessary for me to repeat. Throughout, Julian Reynolds provided estimably supportive accompaniments. Those for the Schubert were especially poised and limpid. Hearing Dame Kiri’s once-lovely voice in evident decline was not a happy experience. How fortunate that her art is preserved on recordings. I returned home and reached for her singing in Puccini’s La Rondine (Sony) and reminded myself of her gifts at their height, which were glimpsed only momentarily during the course of this recital.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content