Anna Netrebko, soprano; Daniel Barenboim, piano. DG 477 8867.
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is one of today's reigning stars of the opera world. She certainly must be doing something right because this current album of largely Russian songs, In the Still of Night, marks something like the twentieth-plus compact disc the folks at DG have released of her singing. Not only that, she has celebrated pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim accompanying her.
What's even more, DG have given the album a most royal treatment. The single disc comes housed not in an ordinary jewel box but in a special, superdeluxe CD book, with a fifty-odd page insert bound between hard covers, the disc itself sliding into a stiff cardboard sleeve attached near the rear of the case. The package is the size and thickness of a regular CD jewel box but is much more elaborate. And more costly.
In the recital, Ms. Netrebko sings primarily songs by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1900) and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), twenty of them altogether. Then, to conclude the program, she sings two encores, Antonin Dvorak's Songs My Mother Taught Me, Op. 55, No. 4, and Richard Strauss's Cacilie, Op. 27, No. 2. The complete album lasts well over an hour.
As always, Ms. Netrebko sings radiantly, elegantly, investing each song with an appropriate degree of intensity, drama, and passion. Yet there is an extra poignancy, too, in the songs themselves. They have a bittersweet character about them, Ms. Netrebko explaining that they represent the Russian soul, which knows melancholy. Certainly, Daniel Barenboim accompanies her most eloquently on piano, the two of them making a fine team effort of the works. This is music of high Romanticism, and the performers' attitudes and performances reflect the generally high quality of the pieces.
DG recorded the recital live at the Salzburg Festival in August, 2009, where by all accounts Netrebko and Barenboim were smash hits. The audio engineers place the piano and voice somewhat to the left of center, which may help replicate the live experience but seems a little disconcerting for home listening. The voice rings true, with little or no edge or hardness, while the piano exhibits a pleasantly resonant bloom, also representative of a live performance. The audience, in the meantime, behaves itself, remaining fairly quiet during the songs (indeed, seemingly giving the performers their rapt attention), although their applause after every piece becomes a bit disruptive and annoying after a while.
The extensive booklet, by the way, contains black-and-white and color pictures of the Salzburg event and its participants, several essays on the music and composers involved, an interview with Ms. Netrebko, and the full text of each of the songs. As I say, it's an extraordinarily fancy affair.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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