Frederica von Stade Song Recital Sony78516

Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2011 and the recording is still available.

Frederica von Stade (mezzo)
Song Recital
Martin Katz (piano)
rec. 19 December 1977, Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York
Presto CD
Sony Classical 78516 [51]

Being simply a re-issue of the 1979 LP on CD under licence, this recital might appear short-measure to anyone who feels cheated by anything less than the standard 80 minutes on today’s CDs or downloads. It is however quite long enough to hear one lovely voice display its versatility across four hundred years of song.

Frederica von Stade is the possessor of one of the most sheerly beautiful and instantly recognisable mezzo-sopranos of the last thirty-odd years. Equally at home in several languages – no Italian here; for that go to her Italian opera aria disc also re-issued by ArkivMusic – and able to negotiate anything from Baroque stateliness, through bravura da capo arias, through Lieder, art-songs and French melodies, von Stade is a consummate recitalist. This recording showcases her voice in its plush, youthful prime. Nothing here requires the coloratura fluency or verismo intensity of which we know she is capable. Instead, she presents a selection of more restrained and nuanced nature, with over half the tracks requiring the delicacy associated with the French language and musical idiom.

I suppose some might find this anthology just a touch bloodless or fey; it is certainly for listening in gentle, reflective mood. However, pianist Martin Katz does not just tinkle blandly along with the singer; the piano is an equal voice in the partnership. In the Dowland songs, Von Stade does not quite match Janet Baker in projecting the force of her personality; quiet resignation is more her mode. Her pianissimi in Purcell’s sacred song are very touching although we might ask for a little more overt emotion. I have never been a fan of Liszt in any guise and am thus perhaps not ideally qualified to comment on von Stade’s treatment of his three songs here, but it seems to me that once again she brings rather more restraint than is ideal to the restless, hyper-Romantic style of “Die drei Zigeuner”. By contrast, the simplicity of both “Einst” and “Oh! Quand je dors” seems far better suited to her vocal style. The latter is especially beguiling sung as it is here with the odd jazzy slide to emphasise the sensuousness of the melody. Von Stade allows her voice to expand superbly on the climactic high A then executes a lovely messa di voce diminuendo before the brief silence that heralds the reprise of the gorgeous main tune. She then treats us to some expert mezza voce singing on a thread of voice before ending on an exquisitely poised pianissimo A-flat. This for me is the high point of her recital, although her especial affinity with mélodies and the French language makes all the French items memorable.

The three erotic songs comprising “Chansons de Bilitis” by Debussy indubitably harness von Stade’s greatest virtues as a singer; she delivers the voluptuous recitatives with an irresistible combination of cool detachment and verbal precision.

The four songs by Canteloube from his “Chants de France” are simpler fare: provincial melodies given sensitive, wistful piano accompaniments. They emerge as fresh, charming and very responsive to von Stade’s understatement.

She concludes a thoroughly absorbing recital with a home-grown song by Carol Hall: a touching little ballad apostrophising “Jenny Rebecca, four days old” that rings long afterwards in the mind. The notes to the album relate that the singer was so taken with the song when she first heard Barbra Streisand’s recording she ever afterwards used it as an encore and even named her first daughter, born only two days after this recording session, Jenny Rebecca.

Ralph Moore

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John Dowland (1563-1626)
1. Come again, sweet love doth now invite [2:28]
2. Sorrow, stay [4:27]
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
3. The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation [10:00]
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
4. Die drei Zigeuner [5:09]
5. Einst [0:52]
6. Oh ! Quand je dors! [5:14]
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
7. La flûte de Pan [3:00]
8. La chevelure [3:57]
9. Le tombeau des Naïades [3:12]
Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957)
Chants de France:
10. Auprès de ma blonde [3:32]
11. Où irai-je me plaindre? [3:41]
12. Au pré de la rose [1:36]
13. D’où venez-vous, fillette? [2:15]
Carol Hall (b.1939)
14. Jenny Rebecca [3:12]