Sutherland, Bonynge: Serate Musicali (2 CD, APE)
Sutherland, Bonynge: Serate Musicali (2 CD, APE)

Composer: Gioachino Rossini, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Gaetano Donizetti, Ottorino Respighi, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Cimara, Amilcare Ponchielli, Pietro Mascagni, Fabio Campana, Charles Gounod, Benjamin Godard, Jules Massenet, Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac, Edouard Lalo, Ambroise Thomas, Camille Saint-Saens, Gabriel Faure, Georges Bizet, Giacomo Meyerbeer
Performer: Joan Sutherland, Richard Bonynge
Audio CD
SPARS Code: A-D
Number of Discs: 2
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Decca
Size: 456 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Disc 1:
01. Soirées musicales – 1. La promessa
02. Soirées musicales – 2. Il rimprovero
03. Soirées musicales – 3. La partenza
04. Soirées musicales – 4. L’orgia
05. Soirées musicales – 5. L’invito
06. Soirées musicales – 6. La pastorella delle Alpi
07. Soirées musicales – 7. La gita in gondola
08. Soirées musicales – 8. La danza
09. Serenata francese
10. Il sospiro
11. I tempi assai lontani
12. Dolente immagine di Fille mia
13. Péchés de Vieillesse, Book 2 – Les Adieux à la vie
14. Malinconia, ninfa gentile
15. Il poveretto
16. Vaga luna che inargenti
17. Stornello
18. Il Trovatore

Disc 2:
01. La tua stella
02. Péchés de Vieillesse, Book 2 – La chanson de Zora
03. Péchés de Vieillesse, Book 3 – Arietta all’Antica
04. L’ultima speme
05. A Mezzanotte
06. J’attends toujours
07. Au Printemps
08. Chanson de Florian
09. Pensée D’Automne
10. Nina, ou la folle pour amour – Quand le bien-aimé reviendra
11. L’esclave
12. Le Soir
13. Aimons-nous
14. 2 Songs, Op.1 – 1. Le papillon et la fleur
15. Pastorale
16. Oh! Si les fleurs avaient des yeux
17. Guide au bord ta nacelle
18. Les Hirondelles – Words: Volny l’Hôtelier
19. Berceuse
20. Puisqu’elle a pris ma vie
21. Les filles de Cadix
22. Aimons-nous
23. Marquita

A MUSICAL SOIREE WITH THE BONYNGES

I’m a bit surprised by the reviewers who express disappointment that this album does not showcase Joan Sutherland’s dazzling coloratura and astonishing high notes. After all, this is a song recital, not a bel canto opera. Sutherland certainly wasn’t a one- (or two-) trick pony, and she didn’t earn the sobriquet “The Voice of the Century” simply for being able to sing high and fast. She also had a voice of remarkable range and wonderfully sensuous beauty as well as exhibiting a mastery of lyrical style–for which much credit should be given to her husband, Richard Bonynge (and which Dame Joan always readily acknowledged).

What this album does showcase is a different and less frequently encountered side of this remarkable artist, who rarely gave art song recitals. Dame Joan never seriously explored the German lieder repertoire (outside of her surprising Wagner album, she essentially avoided singing in German), but there are tons of other singers out there who did. The repertoire recorded here is far less frequently encountered, comprising French and Italian art songs. To hear this obscure repertoire sung so exquisitely is such a rare opportunity that it seems ungrateful to carp that there are no high E-flats or fiendish fioratura.

Although the album was recorded in the Bonynges’ home in Switzerland, the sound is remarkably good, capturing the true timbre of “The Voice,” as Joan and Ricky used to term it. The piano could have been accorded more presence, especially since Bonynge’s accompaniments are so suave and congenial to this rep. (In general, I think that throughout his career Richard Bonynge was given a bum rap by the critical establishment, which seemed to assume that since his wife was such a phenomenon, he must be a second-rate talent who got to conduct only because Joan insisted on it. Well, his conducting career remained healthy well after his wife’s retirement, and his skill as a conductor and keyboard accompanist was never accorded the respect it deserves.) Sutherland is in extremely fine voice, singing with apparently effortless ease, and the result, far from detracting from the lofty reputation she earned on the opera stage, complements it beautifully.

I like to imagine that this is the sort of musical treat the Bonynges regularly offered their guests, retiring to the music room after dinner for a relaxing evening with Ricky settling in at the keyboard and Joan offering marvelous musical bon bons like an after-dinner aperitif to a small gathering of such distinguished personalities as Noel Coward, who was their next-door neighbor. Alas, such soirees must have ended long ago; at a 1997 book-signing for her memoirs, I asked Dame Joan if she ever just sang around the house for her own enjoyment after she retired. Her response was that essentially, after her Gala Farewell performance in 1990, “I shut my mouth” and didn’t sing again, making recordings such as this even more valuable. If you appreciate musical substance and aren’t looking only for cheap thrills, you will find this collection extremely rewarding.

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