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Gluck: Armide

Many conductors are attracted to the music of Gluck, but few are able to bring it to life. Marc Minkowski is one of those few, and this performance of Armide is doubly welcome as a replacement for the single, previous effort with an uninspired Richard Hickox and a struggling Felicity Palmer in the title role. Mireille Delunsch confirms her status as classic heroine with an incisive reading, touching in her abandonment. Charles Workman's odd-sounding voice is less troublesome here than in the theater, perhaps because the role of Renaud requires neither virtuosity nor excessive high notes. Ewa Podles and Laurent Naouri make the most of their brief appearances as do the remainder of the cast in various incidental roles. Gluck is evidently highly congenial to Minkowski, and this reading is on a par with that of Iphigénie en Tauride I heard earlier this year. The control demonstrated in the purely instrumental passages such as the enormous Chaconne in Act 5 places this recording on the Gluckian summits.

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EMI Début:

EMI's Début series is a fascinating collection of vocal and instrumental recitals, most of the performers still quite young but clearly climbing the ladder to success. Katerina Karnéus offers a well-balanced program that includes five lieder by the Viennese composer Joseph Marx (1882-1964), showing him to be a follower of the tradition established by Wolf and Mahler. The mezzo's interpretative insight and control of a remarkable palette make one want to hear more of her. Pianist Roger Vignoles offers impeccable support.

Michelle de Young's dramatic voice is billed as a soprano though she seems to sing mezzo roles. There is a slight edge to her voice that the unkind might call a vibrato, but there was no evidence of such a defect when I heard her in the theater last year. A wide-ranging programme takes us from a careful traversal of Duparc through a mighty reading of Wagner's Wesendoncklieder to two rarely heard monodramas by Liszt, Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher and La perla, neither from the composer's top drawer but nonetheless of interest. Two Strauss songs function as well-deserved encores, allowing pianist Kevin Murphy to show his stuff.

Dietrich Henschel is a Fischer-Dieskau protégé, and in many instances one can hear a resemblance. Unfortunately, despite the singer's excellent program note about the music, one feels little of what he is trying to communicate. He tends to shout in the louder and higher-lying music, while the pianist rarely rises above the ordinary.

Full marks are granted to Sophie Daneman for a well-chosen program, with several less frequently encountered songs alongside the Eichendorff Liederkreis. Unfortunately her very light, breathy soprano does not always do justice to the music, although she seems to understand and want to project the content. Julius Drake's playing offers perfect support throughout.

The only complaint about the series is the lack of texts, though hidden in the otherwise excellent accompanying booklets is a note that the texts in the original language and English translation are available from EMI's website.

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Glière: How dark is the night-Songs for soprano and piano

Reinhold Glière was much more than a complaisant Soviet composer, as this anthology makes clear, with a distinct melodic gift more suited to the song repertory than to such larger-scale works as the Concertos for Coloratura Soprano or for Saxophone that might be familiar to listeners. This is music in the direct line of Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, rather than Prokofiev or Shostakovich, offering few challenges to the listener but much pleasure, when listened to in small doses. Elena Prokina and Semion Skigin have the measure of the composer and are convincing in their espousal of his cause.

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Korngold: Rendez-vous with Korngold: Songs and Chamber music

Thanks to the obsession of pianist Bengt Forsberg with the music of Erich Korngold, Anne Sofie von Otter has once again taken up the cudgels, this time allowing us to hear two major chamber works, a quintet for piano and strings and a suite for the same combination of instruments, but written for Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in the first world war. Some of the songs have previously been recorded by other singers, but this is the first hearing for the Op. 31 Shakespeare songs and two of the unpublished works. Von Otter has already shown us that she is a persuasive advocate of this tormented romanticism, whether Berg, Strauss, Mahler or Zemlinsky, while Forsberg and his instrumental colleagues would be hard to better in the chamber music.

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Schubert: Die Winterreise

Thomas Quasthoff is slowly establishing himself as one of the most accomplished recitalists today. This especially dark version of Winterreise may not be to everyone's liking, but the character of Quasthoff's voice necessitates the use of much lower keys than customary. The singer nonetheless remains persuasive without overstepping the boundaries into the over-expressiveness favored by some of his even younger colleagues. Pianist Charles Spencer is an invaluable collaborator.

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Schumann: Lieder

Matthias Goerne has chosen a more sympathetic pianist in Eric Schneider for his second venture into the Schumann universe, offering the Eichendorff songs and the Opus 35 Kerner songs. The contrast with Sophie Daneman's recital (discussed below) is instructive, as all that appears natural for the baritone is academic in her readings. My only complaint with Goerne is the too-close miking that allows us to hear whopping intakes of breath in some of the quieter songs. Goerne's wide dynamic range and palette of tonal color marks him out as something special in the world of lieder today, while Eric Schneider's accompaniments follow the singer down to the slightest nuance.

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