by | Nov 10, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish In Concert = BEETHOVEN: 3 Goethe Songs, Op. 83; Abendlied; POULENC: 5 Songs; KENNETH FRAZELLE: Worldly Hopes; DEBUSSY: Fetes galantes (Series II); STRAUSS: 5 Songs; GERSHWIN: Our Love is Here to Stay; STANLEY WALDEN: 3 Ladies; HAYDN: Arianna a Naxos – Bridge Records 9340 (2 CDs), 1:57:22 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
It was about 1973 when I first came into contact with the name of Jan DeGaetani. Being a composition major at the time, and at an academic institution, I found myself immersed in the avant-garde; carefully trying to weed my way through the varied stands of what was music and what was not. It was not always easy, as anyone caught up in the excitement of the time easily overlooked the things that one basically considers essential to the art versus the new, unusual, radical – and especially for college students, rebellious.
And then one fine day a friend of mine pulled out a Nonesuch LP called Ancient Voices of Children and life would never be the same. Here was music that was relatable yet also uncontestably new. I will save the Crumb-adulation for another time, but suffice it to say that this recording, with a wonderfully expressive and virtuosic soprano named DeGaetani led to years of further exploration of all sorts of music with her as my guide. Not only Crumb and many others, but Foster, Ives, old American popular songs, you name it, took center stage in my own musical exploration. If Jan DeGaetani thought it worthwhile, then it simply was—no questions asked.
Hers was not the most beautiful mezzo in the world; well, Maria Callas didn’t have the most beautiful voice either, but the things she did with what she had! Jan was the same way—I don’t know that a more expressive female singer ever walked the earth. No matter what she was singing, she made—no, compelled—you to listen, learn, and ultimately love the music. Even if you couldn’t quite cross the Rubicon in regards to really liking a piece you always came away convinced of her own commitment to it, and that did a lot to sell it.
Her later years were rough, with a tough divorce and then a battle with leukemia, ending her life at a far-too-early 56. Her legacy lives on in such sopranos as Renee Fleming and Dawn Upshaw, both her students who seem to have done fairly well for themselves. Bridge Records has been untiring in its efforts to promote her work, this being the ninth (I think) recording of hers that has seen the light of day. Previously there were three “in concert” discs released labeled volumes 1-3, and this one is simply called “in concert” though frustratingly there is no listing of dates or times, but some hints are given that this was recorded when she was in the thralls of her illness. I must in all honesty say that you can indeed hear that, the voice a tiny bit raspy at times and obviously weaker than normal (though she never was a “strong” singer). As such I do not think I would recommend this as a primary introduction to this artist—Ancient Voices and the Ives album would be my first—but for those confirmed fans (and I cannot imagine anyone with previous exposure being anything but) this is a wide-ranging album that shows just how good she could be interpretatively even when her instrument was beginning to fade. The repertory here shows just how broad her interests are, and the World Hopes cycle by her friend and colleague Kenneth Frazelle is a real find, a spectacular major piece that needs to be heard by all lovers of art song, and one that she struggled mightily with in order to bring to the stage.
The sound is very good indeed, the artistry second-to-none, and as a portion of the continuing legacy of one of America’s greatest recitalists, invaluable. I doubt I even need mention the long-standing and unique partnership with her and pianist Gilbert Kalish, a legend in his own right.
—Steven Ritter

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