Bryn Terfel: Bad Boys (CD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.