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Dip Your Ears, No. 16

G. F. Handel, Arias, Renée Fleming
This highly anticipated disc starts with a wavering study in tone and dynamics that—if anything—sounds self-conscious and, after repeated hearing, probably annoying. The quality of the voice, though, is to be marveled at. Grating as "Oh Sleep, why dost though leave me?" is, "Endless pleasure" is far better, if not yet true to the name. Surprised, given the hype about this disc (for example, Anthony Tommasini, Enough to Make Handel Reach for His Walkman, September 7, in the New York Times) and the unquestionable artistry of Fleming, I waited for supreme joy to come. It never did. The music is glorious, of course, but the singing sounds stretched, tried, shrill even, and effortful. In short: the worst example of the usually sublime Renée Fleming, by which even her fans may not be entirely convinced. In Handel she lacks the fleet tone of Bartoli or Hunt-Lieberson's natural expressiveness. Try and compare . . .

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