Pure Diva: Tribute to Joan Hammond – Cheryl Barker, soprano/ Queensland Symphony Orch./ Guillaume Tourniaire – Melba multichannel SACD MR 301129, 78:45 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
This is an interesting concept album dedicated to Australian soprano Joan Hammond (1912-96), a woman with a lively and lovely voice that might not have been the most beautiful ever heard but was certainly one of the most affecting. The dedicator is her student Cheryl Barker, at 51 hardly a student anymore, and in fact one of the mainstays on the world operatic stage today. The program reflects many of Hammond’s signature roles, and is an eclectic selection reflecting the soprano’s many interests, like “O, Silver Moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka all the way to “Home Sweet Home.” Curiously enough, her “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi which earned her a gold record in 1969 for selling a million copies, is not included here. And I find the notes to the release puzzling, as they exclusively focus on Hammond and her career. Some of that is appropriate due to the tribute nature of the album, but this in fact is an album of arias sung and recorded by Cheryl Barker, and that is where the focus belongs.
Barker’s voice does show its age in some spots, like the aforementioned Rusalka—comparing it with Renee Fleming proves there really is no comparison, as Fleming’s is by far the more supple instrument at this point, and both are almost of identical age. But I was pleasantly surprised when hearing that masterpiece of the floating pianissimo, Korngold’s “Marietta’s lied” from Die Tote Stadt, where Barker negotiated the long lines with assurance and depth to her voice. The same could be said for the quick change of pace found in “Dido’s Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, another long-winded aria that requires a lot of control. I find that Barker’s strength at this point in time resides in her quieter moments, the larger and louder passages being the ones that cause problems, though this is by no means consistent.
The program is a popular and tuneful one recorded as only Melba can in state of the art surround sound. It may not be the last word in diva albums, but I found it quite enjoyable.
1 Tchaikovsky Yevgeny Onegin: Tatyana’s Letter Scene
2 Verdi Otello: Willow Song
3 Verdi Otello: Ave Maria
4 Verdi Don Carlo: Tu che le vanita
5 Dvorak Rusalka: Song to the moon
6 Korngold Die Tote Stadt: Mariettas Lied
7 Offenbach Les contes d’Hoffmann: Elle a fui, la tourterelle
8 Purcell Dido and Aeneas: When I am laid in earth (Dido’s Lament)
9 Settle Shadows
10 Bishop Home Sweet Home
11 Coates The Green Hills of Somerset
12 Traditional The Last Rose of Summer
— Steven Ritter
This Rolling Stones continue their 60+ year ascendancy with a worthwhile vinyl singles/e.p. collector’s set.