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Anne Sofie von Otter @ LoC

available at Amazon
Sogno barocco, A. S. von Otter, S. Piau, S. Sundberg, Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea, L. García Alarcón

(released on August 28, 2012)
Naïve V 5286 | 71'
As noted yesterday, Anne Sofie von Otter is a versatile singer; but maybe not able to do everything. Her recital at the Library of Congress on Tuesday night, in a packed Coolidge Auditorium, had some high points, but it raised eyebrows, too, and not just mine. Her renditions of John Dowland's pearl-like lute songs came nowhere near the artful grace of Iestyn Davies in his Dowland recital, when he also partnered with lutenist Thomas Dunford last year. There were moments of vocal strain, probably related to being at the end of an American tour with this program, which exposes Otter's voice at the top in not always pleasant ways. The instrumentalists, Dunford on theorbo and Jonathan Cohen on harpsichord and organ, even got into the act, singing the part-song versions of some of the pieces, in a way that recalled Sting's excursion into Dowland territory a few years ago. This added a certain roughneck charm on Dowland's Fine knacks for ladies, with its wares-hawking text rendered in a street vendor's broad accent.

The later Baroque selections often suited von Otter's voice better, except for when some odd musical characterization drove her to excess, as in the shivering repetitions of Purcell's What Power Art Thou from King Arthur. The composer's more conventional pieces, like Music for a While and especially Venus's Fairest Isle, also from King Arthur, were lovely. At least a partial reason for von Otter's choice of repertory seemed to be based on the oddity of some pieces, beginning with Francesco Provenzale's cantata Squarciato appena havea, which interpolates Neapolitan street ballads, of extremely low, even ribald content, into an artful lament by the Queen of Sweden Maria Eleonora over her dead husband. Recorded on her Sogno barocco album, it is a truly weird piece, and von Otter brought out all its eccentricities, reaching for a tambourine and other percussion instruments to heighten the shift between learned and popular.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Anne Sofie von Otter has chosen to be a singer who is expressive, not excessive (Washington Post, November 19)

James R. Oestreich, Review: The Mezzo-Soprano Anne Sofie von Otter at the Frick Collection (New York Times, November 15)

David Patrick Stearns, Anne Sofie von Otter at the Perelman: Warm, expansive, charismatic (Philadelphia Inquirer, November 13)
Dunford's solo contributions were some of the best parts of this concert, especially a heartfelt performance of Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan, the instrumental version of his wrenching song Flow My Tears. It reduced me to tears, an unspoken tribute to the victims of the Paris terror attacks the previous Friday, something that Dunford did not need to say aloud. His version of Robert de Visée's D Minor Chaconne was equally touching, a nice connection to the theme of ground bass tunes in the French part of the program -- including Michel Lambert's Vos mespris chaque jour, composed on the same bass pattern as Monteverdi's famous Pur ti miro from L'incoronazione di Poppea. While Cohen provided beautiful continuo playing, his solo pieces, composed for harpsichord by Couperin (Les barricades misterieuses) and Rameau (Les sauvages) became slightly odd with accompanying parts improvised by Dunford on theorbo.

One of the highlights was an austere rendition of Arvo Pärt's My Heart's in the Highlands, from 2000, which introduced a concluding section of recent popular songs (not reviewed). Pärt's original organ part was here split between Cohen playing the longer notes on the Baroque organ and Dunford taking the arpeggiated notes on theorbo. In a twelve-measure pattern, with four measures of the voice declaiming the text on a single note followed by eight bars of instruments alone, the piece has a mesmerizing quality and the combination of these three musicians created a sense of timeless stasis. Since my family's trip this past summer to see where our Downey ancestors came from in Scotland, this poem by Robert Burns and this musical setting have greater meaning for me.

The Library of Congress's 90th anniversary season continues this evening with a concert by Apollo's Fire, the Baroque ensemble based in Cleveland, and soprano Amanda Forsythe (November 19, 8 pm).

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well, Anne Sofie IS 60 years old, by which time most singers have a good deal less to offer.