Bryn Terfel: Bad Boys (CD review)

Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone; Paul Daniel, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. DG B0014107-02.

One look at Terfel's mug on the cover and you understand the title of the album, Bad Boys. Sylvester Stallone could have recruited him for The Expendables, and he'd have been right at home with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny Trejo, and the rest.

Most music lovers recognize and love the Welsh bass-baritone Bryon Terfel for his many stage roles and dozens of recordings over the past several decades. Since he often sings the parts of tough guys or villains, it must have been a natural for him to record this album of nefarious opera characters, with conductor Paul Daniel and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in April of 2009. I imagine it must have been fun for him, too.

The disc begins with Terfel as Satan himself in Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele. Later in the program Terfel shows up again as Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod's Faust. So you can't say he shies away from the most diabolical characters in musical literature.

Also in the set, we hear from Giacomo Puccini's Scarpia in Tosca, Gaetano Donizetti's Dulcamara in L'elisir d'amore, Giuseppe Verdi's Iago in Otello, Carl Maria von Weber's Kaspar in Der Freischutz, Amilcare Ponchielli's Barnaba in La gioconda, Gioachino Rossini's Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Ludwig van Beethoven's Pizarro in Fidelio, and, closing the show in a tour-de-force manner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni, Il Commendatore, and Leporello in Don Giovanni, all three roles sung in different voice characterizations.

Augmenting the more-traditional opera parts, Terfel takes on several additional musical villains like the ghost Roderic in Gilbert and Sullivan's Rudigore, the relentless policemen Javert in Claude-Michel Schonberg's Les Miserables, and the murderous Mack the Knife in Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenper. If any one of the characters comes up a little less persuasively, it's Terfel's Sportin' Life from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, but the singer more than makes up for it with an outstanding Sweeney Todd from Stephen Sondheim's musical of the same name (featuring a cameo by Anne Sofie von Otter).

Terfel hasn't just a good voice, he's a good dramatic actor as well, and he seems to relish these roles as heavies, investing them with some seriously venomous evil. Indeed, he is equally at home in Mozart or Rossini as in Sullivan or Sondheim. Listening to him in a complete opera might be more appealing in the long run, but these bits and pieces are enjoyable enough.

The DG audio engineers place Terfel center stage (except in a few notable instances), with the orchestra well spread out behind and around him. The voice, while clear and clean, is never too big, hard, or edgy but perfectly smooth and natural. The orchestral sound comes through with admirable but never overpowering dynamics, a reasonable degree of clarity, and a few solid bass wallops.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa