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Briefly Noted: If It Ain't Baroque

available at Amazon
Bel Canto (Rossini, Mercadante, Mozart, Monteverdi, Bellini, Verdi, Donizetti), S. Kermes, Concerto Köln, C. M. Mueller

(released on October 29, 2013)
Sony 886443810594 | 63'20"
It is probably enough to recommend German soprano Simone Kermes to say that she has been a favorite in Baroque music for conductors like Alan Curtis, Werner Erhardt, and Andrea Marcon. Let me add that, quibbles about a few odd vocal mannerisms aside, her compilations of Baroque arias have been among my all-time favorites, especially her Amor sacro disc, a collection of operatic motets by Vivaldi, which remains my favorite recording of that composer's vocal music ever made. So when Christoph M. Mueller and Concerto Köln release an album with Kermes, stretching from Monteverdi and Mozart into the bel canto repertory, I want to hear it. Kermes is a sometimes odd person -- see this interview for a sampling ("I sang a Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen in Paris once and as an encore I did a high C on the end. In Leipzig they would kill me for that.") -- and the eccentricity comes across in the singing at times, but while she may sometimes raise your eyebrows, she is always memorable. The willingness to go out on a limb will lead to some spectacular failures, as well as exciting triumphs, and this foray into the 19th century is one of the former. Kermes does not have the dramatic soprano weight to do the bel canto pieces justice: her straightened and compressed tone sounds merely coy in "Casta diva," "Dopo l'oscuro nembo" from Bellini's Adelson e Salvini, and "Tu del mio Carlo al seno" from Verdi's I Masnadieri, for example. Her runs and fireworks, so sparkling in the Baroque repertoire, sound labored here, with lots of breathiness to separate the notes, and the high notes are too often anemic. She is better in lighter comic arias, like "In questo semplice modesto asilo" from Donizetti's comic opera Betly, and in pure showpieces like the Queen of the Night's arias, a role she was to have undertaken with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in April (and at the Baden Baden Festival) but had to cancel.

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