Classical CD Reviews

“Guilty Pleasures” – Rene Fleming, soprano/ Philharmonia Orch./ Sebastian Lang-Lessing – Decca

Another Grammy possibility? Sure sounds that way…

Published on November 14, 2013

“Guilty Pleasures” – Rene Fleming, soprano/ Philharmonia Orch./ Sebastian Lang-Lessing – Decca

“Guilty Pleasures” – Rene Fleming, soprano/ Philharmonia Orch./ Sebastian Lang-Lessing – Decca B0019033, 62:40 [Distr. by Universal] (9/17/13) *****:

Renee Fleming is an amazing artist; now 54 (this was recorded when she was 53), she tirelessly performs and records at breakneck speed, along with a heavy concert and opera schedule, along with specialty concerts and events like the huge examination of the past, present, and future of American song spanning all genres at the Kennedy Center at the end of November. Her Poemes album won a Grammy (her fourth) in 2013, and this one will no doubt score high as well.

What Fleming does here is choose among specialty songs she has always wanted to record but never had the opportunity. At this point, being a cash cow for Decca, she can probably dictate terms for any future project she wishes. I told her once at a recital that I thought she should record all of Samuel Barber’s songs, but no luck so far—she would be perfect for them.

But she is perfect for so much as it is. Her voice is astonishingly robust and vigorous, perhaps showing the tiniest hint of thinning at the very top, but as rich—probably richer—than it has ever been. Technically she can’t be bested, using her ever-expanding repertory to good effect in terms of learning all sorts of styles and affections. Solti once said that of all the sopranos he ever worked with Fleming and Renata Tebaldi were the two best. No disparagement to Tebaldi, a personal favorite, but Fleming has left her in the dust in terms of breadth of repertory and understanding of the art. Tebaldi soared along a natural and very luscious talent, but Fleming adds an intelligence and depth of interpretation that the Italian lacked. I do hope she turns to the Barber songs, and starts to release some albums aside from these “big” sellers focusing on opera arias and concert songs, for she really is just the person to do it. But as one of the few classical artists to actually enjoy the commitment of a major record label I am sure that she will also continue along this vein.

The eight different languages used on this recording display Fleming at her most versatile, and leave one hankering for more. Example: we are given two of Falla’s magnificent Siete canciones populares españolas, and they are so good, so perfectly rendered that it is a shame that she didn’t just go ahead and record the other five—there is room for them. The same could be said about her sensitive treatment of Träume from Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder, and who would not want to hear her in Berlioz’s complete Les nuits d’été or more Canteloube selections? I realize that this is not that kind of album, and that these are her personal favorites and the results of discoveries made over the years, but really Renee, why tease us? I suppose all is forgiven when we hear the ravishing aria from Tchaikovsky’s early opera Undina or the lovely Delibes song Les filles de Cadix, exquisitely rendered. And of course more American repertory would have been nice also, though I am grateful for the Corigliano Ghosts aria Once there was a golden bird. I guess I will just have to wait for what comes around the next time, and if Fleming keeps this pace up, that won’t be long. No matter what it is, her beautiful lyric voice is always welcome in my house, and we need to treasure her while she is still active. May it be a long time.


Berlioz: Villanelle (from Les nuits d’été, Op. 7)
Canteloube: La Delaïssado (2nd series, no.4) from Chants d’Auvergne; Malurous qu’o uno fenno (3rd series, no.5) from Chants d’Auvergne
Corigliano: Once there was a golden bird (from The Ghosts of Versailles)
Delibes: Les filles de Cadix
Lakmé: Dôme épais (Flower Duet) with Susan Graham (mezzo)
Duparc: Phidylé
Dvorak: Za tihlou Gazelou (from Armida)
Falla: Nana (No. 5 from Siete canciones populares españolas); Canción (No. 6 from Siete canciones populares españolas)
Rachmaninov: Twilight, Op.21 No. 3
Refice: Ombra di Nube
Smetana: Vendulka”s Lullaby (from The Kiss)
Strauss, J, II: Frag mich oft (Walzer aus Wien)
Tchaikovsky: Undina’s Aria (from Undina)
trad.: Londonderry Air
Wagner: Träume (No. 5 from Wesendonck-Lieder)

—Steven Ritter

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