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Pure Diva, Tribute to Joan Hammond - Cheryl Barker

Pure Diva, Tribute to Joan Hammond - Cheryl Barker

Melba Recordings  MR301129

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Korngold, Dvorak, Offenbach, Purcell

Cheryl Barker
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Guillaume Tiurniaire (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - August 26, 2011

Probably the most celebrated soprano to emerge from Australia between the eras of Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Joan Sutherland was Dame Joan Hammond (1912-1996). Her blossoming early career was interrupted by the Second World War during which she made a number of recordings, including one of the aria ‘O my beloved father’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. That disc became the first operatic aria recording to sell over a million copies. After the war her singing career steadily progressed, but sadly came to an abrupt end in 1965 when she developed serious heart problems. For a singer who was also a keen swimmer, yachtswoman and champion golfer, this must have come as a devastating blow. Following her recovery she left the operatic stage and embarked on a teaching career at the Victoria College of the Arts.

Cheryl Barker is one of Joan Hammond’s former pupils who has forged a very successful international career in both the opera house and concert hall thanks, not least, to her delightful stage presence, and on this new SACD she performs a diverse selection of arias and songs associated with her former mentor. It is almost inevitable that in a compilation that encompasses such a wide range of periods and styles (Purcell to Korngold) some items will be more successful than others, but in the main Barker’s musical intelligence, thrillingly well-projected voice and clear diction transcends any occasional vocal limitations.

‘Tatyana’s Letter Scene’ from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’, that opens this recital, is performed with urgent passion and beautifully conveys the rapidly changing emotions of the opera’s heroine. Barker’s account of the two excerpts from Verdi’s ‘Otello’ are among the finest items on the disc, showing her to be a most touching Desdemona, and although Barker is a lyric soprano rather than a lirico-spinto, she nevertheless tackles the taxing aria ‘Tu che le vanità’ from Verdi’s ‘Don Carlo’ with surprising success.

Barker’s performances of both the ‘Song to the moon’ from Dvorak’s ‘Rusalka’ and ‘Marietta’s Lied (Glück das mir verblieb)’ from Korngold’s ‘Die Tote Stadt’ may lack the creamy effortlessness of say Renee Fleming, but both are captivating in their own quite different ways. The range of Cheryl Barker’s vocal and interpretive capabilities are evident in two arias that could hardly be more contrasted: ‘Elle a fui, la tourterelle’ from Offenbach’s ‘Les contes d’Hoffmann’ and Dido’ Lament from Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’. In the former Barker copes admirably with the demanding high tessitura and in the latter her controlled singing and Samantha Cohen’s theorbo playing combine to poignantly express Dido’s grief.

Guillaume Tourniaire’s sensitively moulded accompaniments to all these arias and the distinguished playing from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra are a welcome feature of each item of this recital. In addition, the excellent engineering of Phil Rowlands has achieved a lovely open sound, flattering to both voice and orchestra, in the Brisbane Studio where the recordings were made.

The four songs with piano accompaniment that complete the disc were recorded in a different venue (Melbourne Recital Centre). Barker’s singing of these sentimental ballads does expose moments of strain in her top register possibly exacerbated by the reverberant acoustic, but will provide for some a touching reminder of Hammond's many recitals.

The handsome presentation of the disc is, as usual, with Melba of the highest standard and includes not only full texts but also a typically perceptive essay on Joan Hammond by the late-lamented John Steane.

Cheryl Barker has recently expanded her repertoire to include two major Strauss roles, the Marschallin in ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ and the Countess Madeleine in ‘Capriccio’ for which she has garnered great press acclaim in her native Australia, This fine tribute to Joan Hammond, her teacher and friend, will further enhance Barker’s reputation as a soprano of great versatility.

Warmly recommended.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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