Roderick Williams and Donizetti CDs reviewed


BIRDSONG: Roderick Williams (baritone) & Andrew West (piano) ★★★
Popular songs written for women are successfully sung by men, and vice-verse. In lieder, mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender triumphed in the "male" Winterreise. So why doesn't baritone Roderick Williams' convince me in Schumann's Fraunliebe und -leben ? The texts are cringe-worthy – the doting little woman can sound a complete nitwit – but that's a problem for women singers too. Williams is always sensitive and sometimes beautiful – his hushed lament on death Nun hast du mir is genuinely touching – but some songs, such as An meinem Herzen where the subject is breast-feeding, the intimacy of which "only a mother knows" jar painfully when sung by a man. No problems with the selection of Brahms songs both romantic and humorous: the composer wanted Vergebliches Ständchen lively and humorous with Williams and pianist Andrew West both delivering. Sally Beamish's Four Songs from Hafez are very enjoyable with West revelling in the virtuoso demands of Hoopoe.
Norman Stinchcombe

DONIZETTI IN THE 1830's: Jones, Focile, Kenny et al. / LPO, NPO, Philharmonia ★★★★
For fifty years the Opera Rara label has rescued from obscurity and recorded dozens of Donizetti operas. This handsome newly remastered 7CD box set has three which have been out of the catalogue for ten years. Fans of the byways of bel canto should snap one up. Il diluvio universale (The Great Flood) of 1830 was recorded in 2005 with the London Philharmonic under Giuliano Carella; Ugo conte di Parigi (Hugo, Count of Paris) of 1832 recorded in 1977 with the New Philharmonia under Alun Francis; and L'assedio di Calais (The siege of Calais) of 1836 is from 1988 with the Philharmonia under David Parry. Non are operatic masterpieces but all are enjoyable, the singing, orchestral playing and recording quality are top-notch. Parigi is the standout with a star turn from Welsh coloratura mezzo Della Jones in the trouser role of the King of France – she's worth the admission price!
Norman Stinchcombe

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