Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Album Review: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: A Tribute

This must have been a very difficult album to produce. The consistent brilliance of mezzo-soprano’s Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s Harmonia Mundi recordings certainly must have made the practical task of selecting recordings, by an artist who never sung an unfelt note in her life, a challenge. Then there’s the emotional weight of assessing the career of an artist whose life was tragically brief. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for producer Robina G. Young to put this beautiful album together, but she has made a great one and we are grateful.

More than any American singer, Lieberson was the voice of the Handel opera and oratorio revival. On a series of recordings conducted by Nicholas McGegan, Lieberson sung the roles of Ariodante, Theodora, Susanna and other Handel heroines in a way that changed how we heard (and felt) this music. Nobody could mine such emotion out of a recitative or effortlessly ornament a line like she did. Excerpts from Handel’s Ariodante are breathtaking reminders that while this music has plenty of opportunities for pyrotechnics it is still moving drama. Of course Lieberson was more than just a Handel specialist. Her performance of Purcell’s Dido is the yardstick by which all other performances are measured. As would be expected, her performance of Dido’s “When I am laid in earth” is one of the emotional high points of the album. If you don’t own her complete recording of Dido and Aeneas, I implore you to get a copy.

This is an absolutely essential recording for anyone who cares about the power of the voice and its ability to dazzle the ear and touch the heart. Lieberson did both.

Sample and Buy the new album at Ariama!

Craig Zeichner
Ariama Editor

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