Fleming – Distant Light = Music by BARBER, HILLBORGS and BJORK – Renee Fleming – sop./ Royal Stockholm Sym. Orch./ Sakari Oramo – Decca

Fleming – Distant Light = Music by BARBER, HILLBORGS and BJORK – Renee Fleming – sop./ Royal Stockholm Sym. Orch./ Sakari Oramo – Decca 4830415, 53:00 (1/6/17) ****:

This new release is a long-awaited collection from soprano Renee Fleming, containing Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The other tracks are from Scandinavian composers, with works especially written for the soprano.

I think the highlight here for most will be the Barber. It’s a lovely work for orchestra based on a prose piece by James Agee. It was first premiered in 1948. Although originally conceived for a male voice, it has been successfully performed by several sopranos. Ms. Fleming gives us a terrific and emotional performance, and the Decca engineers have given us a very nice sounding CD. Some may complain that Ms. Fleming seems a bit distant in the recording, but I think the production decisions here give a very ‘live’  and satisfying sound.

Next, we have Anders Hillborgs’ The Strand Settings. Hillborg is very popular in Swedish classical music circles. This work is contemporary in sound, at times unsettling, and Ms. Fleming does well with this difficult and atmospheric piece. The Hillborgs is a world premier recording.

Finally, we have three songs by Bjork. They are highly original and personal works, and Ms. Fleming and Bjork have a musical connection in that both won Sweden’s Polar Music Prize.

The final two works are also very well-recorded, with a good stereo soundstage and a feeling for the recording venue. I had another listen to the album with a Dolby PLII X decoder in music mode, decoding the tracks to a 5.1 configuration. That expanded the musical image and made the recording sound even more realistic without unnaturally stretching the locations of the musicians or soloist.

Miss Fleming is a musical superstar, and this is a very fine CD of her music. I think the Barber alone is reason to buy this, and the other pieces are simply further enticements. Highly recommended!

—Mel Martin

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