“Eternal Source of Brass Divine: Famous Arias for Soprano and Brass” [TrackList follows] – Magnifica Brass Quintet/ Shigeko Hata, soprano – indésens INDE032 [Distr. by Allegro], 1 CD + DVD, CD: 57:40, DVD: 22:42 ***:
The blurb on the back cover of this CD avers, “The union of voice and brass instruments creates a subtle alchemy full of shades and emotions, to serve the gems of vocal repertoire of the passed (sic) centuries, from Haendel and Vivaldi, to Grieg and Puccini.” That may be true, but I’d submit the same is true of the original orchestral backdrop that these composers provided for their vocal works. In fact, I’m so happy with the originals that the current arrangements and performances would have to be special indeed to get me excited about them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Some arrangements work better than others. For me, the most successful are arrangements of numbers that started life as brassy vocal showpieces—Let the Bright Seraphim, Eternal Source of Light Divine, or Vivaldi’s Alleluia. Other listeners may favor the slower, gentler pieces such as Mascagni’s Ave Maria, Grieg’s Solveg’s Song, or Caccini’s Amarilli, where light and shade play more subtly through the brass accompaniment. Bist du bei mir and Caccini’s Ave Maria, both of which seem to invite the many arrangements that have graced (or defaced) them, work nicely here.
Throughout, the brass playing is accomplished, the singing for the most part very pleasing, but. . . . But, mostly I ask, why? With few exceptions, the music-making here is not so memorable that I want to hear it again anytime soon. Instead, I want to hear the originals so I can verify their superiority, which is an easy task. In fact, some of the arrangements strike me as almost comically weak, namely those from the Puccini operas: Un bel di falls flat, flat without the grand Puccinian orchestral treatment. And speaking of comical, it gives me no pleasure to report that soprano Shigeko Hata, whose Italian diction seems to me impeccable, hasn’t a clue about English diction. She should have left Handel off the bill of fare.
In the nineteenth century, opera arias and other vocal pieces were routinely arranged for brass ensemble. For most listeners away from the main urban centers, this was the only way they got to hear Rossini, Meyerbeer, or Verdi. However, I expect many of today’s listeners will find this project a case of carrying coals to Newcastle, even if individual numbers work well enough.
The bonus DVD for me is more than a bonus; it’s the most enjoyable experience this package has to offer. The performers are filmed at the baptistery of the beautiful thirteenth-century Église Saint-Eliphe in the commune of Rampillon. Ms. Hata sports a striking red silk dress, while the brass players wear black neck to toe. The performance of six pieces from the program is so classily filmed and recorded that I’m willing to set aside for the moment my reservations about the arrangement of Un bel di. So while I can’t recommend the whole package with enthusiasm, I must say that it isn’t without its individual enticements. Weighing my reservations and enthusiasms, you may want to take a chance on this program—and you may find even more to enjoy than I did.
Vivaldi: “Alleluia” from In furore justissimae irae RV 626
Handel: “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Samson
Alfredo Catalani: “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from La Wally
Handel: “Piangerò la sorte mia” from Giulio Cesare
Puccini: “Un bel di vedremo” from Madame Butterfly
Vivaldi: “Domine Deus” from Gloria RV 589
Mascagni: “Ave Maria” (Intermezzo) from Cavalleria Rusticana
Bach: Bist du bei mir BWV 508
Puccini: “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Turandot
Handel: “Ombra mai fu” (Largo) from Serse
Grieg: “Solveg’s Song” from Peer Gynt
Giulio Caccini: Amarilli, mia bella
Handel: “Eternal Source of Light Divine” from Birthday Ode for Queen Ann
Fauré: “Pie Jesu” from Requiem
Caccini: Ave Maria
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