RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Dream with Me
Katarzyna Dondalska (soprano; violin*)
Timur Enikeev (piano)
Michelle Perry (horn)
rec. Filharmonia Koszalińska, 4–7 August 2016
Sung texts enclosed
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0370 [77:19]
A couple of years ago I reviewed a disc titled “Nightingale” with Katarzyna Dondalska (review). The programme was really charming, presenting songs about birds. Many of them dealt with nightingales – a bird that needs a good coloratura soprano. Katarzyna Dondalska is a very good coloratura soprano and the disc was a success. Now she is back with a new mixed programme, and while she has abandoned the nightingales (well, not quite) she has generous opportunities to make excursions up in the blue. As for her capacity it remains truly impressive. Many sopranos never reach those heights at all, some do but only with difficulty, only a few feel comfortable up there. Dondalska feel very comfortable and seems to have no problem finishing a phrase pianissimo. Her coloratura is immaculate too and the only fault I can register is a certain hardness of tone in some places.
The programme is varied and includes a lot of songs and composers that most of us are unfamiliar with. For how many are Harriet Ware, Charles Gilbert Spross, Gaetano Braga, Gustav Rebling and Franz Lachner household names? We can’t expect all these songs to be masterpieces, but they are melodious and attractive in an unpretentious way, and they are not easy for the performers.
The title of the collection is “Dream with Me” but it should by rights be “Dream with Us”, since the excellent horn player Michelle Perry takes part in every number bar one and actually has one solo of her own. Pianist Enikeev is an important participant and Katarzyna Dondalska also plays the violin in one piece. She studied violin from the age of five and only took up singing when she was fifteen. Whether she sings and plays simultaneously I don’t know, but the playing is excellent.
The idea of combining the bright soprano voice with the mellow tones of the French horn was brilliant. Often the horn plays an introduction – as in the opening Rachmaninov song – and pops in between stanzas and plays a postlude as well. In many songs they sing together – and Michelle Perry’s horn really sings – so even though you have heard some of the songs before, you get a new perspective on them this time. The Rachmaninov is such a case, Massenet’s Élégie another. Both are well-known. Harriet Ware was an American teacher, who did a lot to educate lower class children and adults and founded the Children's Friend Society. The entry on her on Wikipedia doesn’t say a word about possible musical activities. Charles Gilbert Spross was also American. He was a pianist who travelled the world as accompanist to singers, violinists and other instrumentalists. Gaetano Braga, Italian cellist, wrote music for his own instrument and a number of operas that haven’t been played for ages. Josef Mysliveček, the earliest of the composers on this disc, was Czech and an important figure in late 18th century music life. He was a close friend of the Mozart family and is often mentioned in Wolfgang Amadeus’ correspondence. He wrote more than 25 operas, many of them to librettos by Metastasio. Il Bellerofonte was only his second opera, premiered in Naples in 1767. The aria is long and lively with a lot of coloratura. Carrie Jacobs-Bond was an American singer and pianist who wrote about 175 songs, some of them being great hits. I Love You Truly (1901) and A Perfect Day (1910) are still frequently performed. A Perfect Day is a personal favourite of mine and I was delighted to find it on this disc. Even though I prefer Benjamin Luxon’s warmer baritone voice I’m sure I will play Dondalska’s version just as often in future.
Gustav Rebling was a German conductor and composer, one of the most important choir leaders during the second half of the 19th century. Waldessehnsucht (Longing to the Forest) is a fine little song, where the French horn contributes real forest-feeling. Forest-feeling is also present in Solvejgs Sang. It is from the incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and one can imagine the girl standing alone in the forest with her birch-bark horn, playing first a sad melody, then she sings and between the stanzas we hear the horn again. At the end she plays again. The German composer and conductor Franz Lachner was a major musical profile during his lifetime but is today largely forgotten. Readers who have Italian language recordings of Cherubini’s Medea should be aware that the recitatives are composed by Lachner. The French original was an opera comique (with spoken dialogue) but when it was played in Frankfurt in 1855 Lachner was commissioned to write recitatives and that version was adopted also in Italy. Lachner also composed a large number of songs, several settings of the same poems that Schubert had set. Frauenliebe und Leben heard on this disc is a fine piece, but we think more of Schumann when we see the title.
Otto Nicolai is remembered for two things: he was the founder of the Wiener Philharmoniker and he wrote the opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, which is still played. The piece on this disc with the full title Variazioni concertanti su motivi favoriti dell'opera La sonnambula di Bellini, per soprano, corno e pianoforte oppure violoncello o clarinetto, Op. 26 is a true virtuoso piece, a tour de force for both singer and horn player. The soprano is allotted Amina’s final aria Ah! non giunge uman pensiero where she rejoices when everything is sorted out.
Rachmaninov’s well-known Vocalise is heard here with a horn part added, composed by Stefan Johannes Walter, Katarzyna Dondalska’s husband, who is also responsible for the horn arrangement of the first Rachmaninov song and contributes two compositions of his own: another Vocalise (tr. 16) with a lovely melody, and Soggetti Italiani (tr. 17), lively rhythms, charming and fun with a hearty march rounding off the piece. Before these two we also hear the nightingale piece I mentioned earlier. On her previous disc she included no fewer than four songs by Franz Grothe, who wrote a tremendous amount of film music, including Die Schwedische Nachtigall about 19th century virtuoso Jenny Lind. Here comes one more song from that 1941 film; it was originally sung by the legendary soprano Erna Berger.
It is interesting to hear Massenet’s Meditation from the opera Thaïs, written in the original for violin solo, played by the French horn. The full and round tone of the instrument adds warmth.
Leonard Bernstein’s Dream with me was written for his musical Peter Pan, which was premiered in 1950. It was intended as a full-blown musical but it was performed with only five songs – songs that were suited to the limited vocal resources of the actors. Dream with me was not one of those five. Not until 2000 was the full score unearthed and was recorded and later also staged. It is sad that this lovely song was never heard during Bernstein’s lifetime. It makes a sensitive, lyric finale to this really lovely recital.
If you love beautiful melodies – known or unknown – performed by wonderful artists you should definitely hear this disc. You will love it.
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
1. Do not sing to me, my beauty, Op. 4 No. 4 [4:46]
Harriet WARE (1799 – 1847)
2. Marguerite [2:03]
Charles Gilbert SPROSS (1874 – 1961)
3. Gathered Rose [1:21]
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
4. Elégie [2:38]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
5. My beloved spake [4:11]
Gaetano BRAGA (1829 – 1907)
6. Der Engel Lied [4:22]*
Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737 – 1781)
7. Aria from the opera Il Bellerofonte [9:00]
Carrie JACOBS-BOND (1862 – 1946)
8. A perfect day [2:31]
Gustav REBLING (1821 – 1902)
9. Waldsehnsucht [1:46]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
10. Solvejgs Lied [4:53]
Franz LACHNER (1803 – 1890)
11. Frauenliebe und Leben [4:19]
Otto NICOLAI (1810 – 1849)
12. Variazioni concertanti [8:45]
13. Vocalise [6:28]
Franz GROTHE (1908 – 1982)
14. Postillon-Lied from the movie Die Schwedische Nachtigall [2:16]
15. Meditation from Thaïs [4:22]
Stefan Johannes WALTER (b. 1968)
16. Vokalise [4:08]
17. Soggetti Italiani [5:42]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990)
18. Dream with me [3:40]
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