Two young artists with their best yet
Two accomplished young artists have new CDs out to start 2012. While neither has done anything wrong in her previous releases, neither have I heard what was supposed to make me fall at her feet or leap up to applaud. Anyway, at my age it's better to sit still and listen, rather than fall or leap, lest I end up in traction. And this time around, I really like what I'm hearing.
32-year old Australia-born soprano Danielle de Niese is reportedly quite captivating on stage, something which I've not had the chance to experience. But on her previous albums of Handel and Mozart, I've found her voice to be distinctive to the point of oddness -- variously girlish, hooty and harsh, like a young wine whose fruit, acid and tannins, while not unpleasant on their own, haven't had time to fully integrate. De Niese's voice is no less itself on her latest, "Beauty of the Baroque", but now its disparate elements come together for one common purpose: beguiling, seductive expression in some of the world's most glorious melodies. Some may still find her sound off-putting at first, but isn't it frequently that way with strong flavors that later become favorites? Anyhow, check out her vibrant soprano against the straight and bland countertenor of Andreas Scholl in duets by Monteverdi, Handel and Pergolesi, No contest. And tune in on Saturday, January 21 at 1:00 for the Metropolitan Opera's new production called The Enchanted Island, co-starring de Niese alongside Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels, Luca Pisaroni and, in a cameo as Neptune, Plácido Domingo.
(Digression: I know that "Baroque" has become a popular classical brand-name. But it also has real meaning, referring to a range of musical styles of the 17th and 18th centuries. Not for the first time, "Baroque" has been slapped on a CD containing some unarguably non-Baroque pieces, in this case, an Elizabethan lute song by John Dowland and the opening duet of the Stabat Mater of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, an 18th-century composer whose simple melodic style has more in common with the Classical style than the Baroque. How about some truth in advertising, folks?)
I haven't had anywhere near as strong a reaction, positive or negative, to the first few releases by 24-year old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, who rocketed to stardom following her win in the 2004 BBC Young Artist of the Year competition. Okay, there were some glimpses of individuality in her 2011 pairing of concertos by Tchaikovsky and Bruch. But enough to single her out from a crowded field of superb young violinists? Not yet. And I liked her instrumental version of John Tavener's "Song for Athene" on a previous album, though I might cynically ask whether covering such an iconic work (sung at the funeral of Princess Diana) was as much a careerist move as was her guest appearance on "popera" superstar Andrea Bocelli's "One Night in Central Park" concert and video. Now, in her new album "Italia", Benedetti has, like de Niese, gone for Baroque, also to excellent effect. Freed from the romantic concertos' burden of projecting every note to the maximum, Benedetti here employs an admirable variety of attacks, tone colors and phrase-shapes to enliven the comparatively but deceptively simple works by Vivaldi, Veracini and Tartini. Why, she's not just a violinist -- she's a musician! And one with personality, style and pizazz.
Stay tuned to WFCR's classical music for more from these superb new albums.