MAHLER: Ruckert-Lieder; SIBELIUS: Six Lieder, Op. 50; BRAHMS: Two Songs, Op. 91; SCHUBERT: Three Songs – Julia Morgan, mezzo-sop./ Amanda Johnston, p./ Jody Davenport, viola (Brahms) – MSR Classics MS 1402, 52:40 [Distr. by Albany] ***1/2:
This is a tough repertory to leap into for an up-and-coming artist like Canadian Julia Morgan. Every piece on this recital has been recorded by some of the greatest mezzo-sopranos on history, and throwing one’s vocal hat into the rather intense bullring takes a lot of guts. Currently, according to biography, Morgan resides in some very respectable yet second tier opera productions, and she remains very much an unfinished product with tremendous potential. As of now however, one comes away with an incomplete feeling about these performances.
The Mahler is the most difficult, and the most successfully portrayed in the recorded art at large. Morgan’s voice skits the upper limits of mezzo and lacks the weight which provides the color of these songs, though lyrically speaking she is wonderful and very expressive. Time will itself lead her back to this work I imagine, nature providing what is missing through the aging process. The same could be said about the two Brahms songs with viola; though she and Jody Davenport cannot match the deliriously chocolate coloring of Marilyn Horne and Pinchas Zukerman, they do bring a sense of anticipation and desire in the first song and quiet solemnity in the “Sacred Lullaby”.
Schubert and Sibelius provide what are probably the most successful pieces on this disc, Morgan’s light mezzo very well suited to the style and simplicity of the melodic content while demonstrating a natural ability for phrasing and capturing the proper highlights of the text.
Partner Amanda Johnston provides equitable and engaging support in a fine acoustic. Morgan is definitely one to watch.