Soaked in Colour Isabel Pfefferkorn Fuga Libera

Soaked in Colour
Isabel Pfefferkorn (vocals)
Anton Mecht Spronk, Paul Handschke, Payam Taghadossi, Zoltán Despond, Mathias Johansen (cellos)
rec. 2021, Schubertiade Hohenems, Austria
Booklet with notes in English, French, German enclosed
Fuga Libera FUG797 [73]

Soaked in colour is an intriguing phrase to use for the title of this CD. The idea of having a recital disc of vocal items accompanied only by a cello quartet might seem on paper to be lacking in colour, but in the event this is far from the case.

Isabel Pfefferkorn is a 32-year old singer who hails from Austria. Her website lists her as a Mezzo-Jazz Singer. In the liner notes to this CD she is described as having sung soprano parts with success in North America. On the evidence of this CD I would say she is definitely most comfortable in the mezzo range but her upper voice does have a brighter soprano-like quality which she uses to good effect here. At times the lightness of her upper register puts me in mind of Cecilia Bartoli, even though their respective sound is not alike.  The other key thing to note is that Pfefferkorn is also a cellist. She has even contributed an arrangement of her own composition which is the closing track on the disc, although many of the musical arrangements are by Josef Hofer. For this album she has acted as her own Producer and Artistic Director. That is quite a hefty set of responsibilities for any young artist to take on.

The album opens with a chilling and prickly setting of Purcell’s What power art thou from the winter scene of King Arthur. I have never felt the spine-tingling effect of this music register quite so fully as it does here. It is a stunningly dramatic way to open the CD. This is immediately followed by a dreamily languid version of Dido’s Lament, where Pfefferkorn shows her admirable control of the long vocal lines.  Next up is a fascinating version of Bach’s Erbarme dich from the St Matthew Passion. The arrangement for four cellos intertwines delicately with the voice to achieve a rather intimate dalliance, somewhat overwhelming the spiritual nature of the piece, but extremely well done nonetheless.

Pfefferkorn is very good in the French and Spanish tracks on the CD. Her account of Bizet’s Habanera is fresh and exudes warmthThe two De Falla songs suit this singer very much, however; she really grabbed me with her stunningly lovely rendition of Piazzólla’s  Oblivion. The voice and the cellos combine here to produce three minutes of absolute perfection.  

There are some things that require a bit of work to make her into a more polished artist. Once or twice when she reaches a little too far above the staff, her tone takes on a hectoring sound, but it is a brief occurrence. Her English pronunciation can be hit or miss. As in the Samuel Barber song where her words are so indistinct that the words pass by in a blur. In the lovely Colours of the Wind from the Disney film Pocahontas, she seems to be unable to pronounce the frequently repeated phrase about the “Blue corn moon” without turning the word “corn” into “corr” every time.

Half of this disc is devoted to more current songs, with mixed results. Her version of Over the Rainbow credits the composer Harold Arlen but the vocal line has been altered to such an extent that perhaps only 10 percent of Arlen’s song remains. What is left is an entirely new melody, of lesser merit than Arlen’s Oscar winner for Best song of 1939. An excellent rendition of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River is compromised by some jarring echo chamber effects applied to certain key notes in the song. Still there are fascinating and worthwhile performances of Toxic and Skyfall that are pleasing additions to the disc overall. I am less appreciative of Pfefferkorn’s own composition Painting my Chest. Much too disjointed for my taste, it comes across as ineffectual improvisation.

Mike Parr

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Henry Purcell: What power art thou? (from King Arthur, Z628)
When I am laid in earth (from Dido and Aeneas)
Johan Sebastien Bach: St Matthew Passion, BWV 244: Erbarme dich
Franz Schubert: Auf dem Flusse (No. 7 from Winterreise, D911)
Robert Schumann: Die Lotosblume, Op. 25 No. 7
Samuel Barber: Sure on this shining night, Op. 13 No. 3
Excerpt, Falla: Siete Canciones populares españolas
No. 3, Asturiana (Arr. for Voice and String Quartet by Josef Hofer)
No. 7, Polo (Arr. for Voice and String Quartet by Josef Hofer)
Georges Bizet: L’amour est un oiseau rebelle ‘Habanera’ (from Carmen)
Astor Piazzólla: Oblivion
Tom Waits: Temptation
Harold Arlen: Over the Rainbow
Alan Menken: Colors Of The Wind (from Pocahontas)
Freddie Mercury: Love of My Life
Justin Timberlake, Timothy Mosley, Scott Storch: Cry Me a River
Stephen Samuel Wrabel, Jamie Alexander Hartman, Eric Leva: Strange Work 
Pontus Winnberg, Cathy Dennis, Christian Karlsson, Henrik Jonback: Toxic
Paul Richard Epworth, Adele Laurie, Blue Adkins: Skyfall (From “Skyfall”)

Isabel Pfefferkorn: Painting my Chest