Classical CD Reviews

Virgins, Vixens, & Viragos – Susan Graham, mezzo/ Malcolm Martineau, p. – Onyx

An exceptional song disc of great variety, and—rarely these days—thought.

Published on December 28, 2012

Virgins, Vixens, & Viragos – Susan Graham, mezzo/ Malcolm Martineau, p. – Onyx

Virgins, Vixens, & Viragos – Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano/ Malcolm Martineau, p. – Onyx 4105, 74:39 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

It’s amazing to watch the evident demise of the major labels; now that Universal has acquired EMI as well we will surely be keeping a keen eye on what happens to that label’s extraordinary back catalog. Sony has long been sucked into black hole musical oblivion. Just think of all the things currently rotting in the Columbia and RCA catalogues—E. Power Biggs comes to mind just for starts. Hopefully some enlightened being at Universal will come to their senses and begin reissuing some of these incredible recordings. I read recently, regarding this 1.9 billion buy-off, “This is a next step towards ensuring the health of our industry,” Lucian Grainge, the chairman of Universal, said in a statement. “EMI is finally returning to people who have music in their blood.”

Yeah, sure. Not if what Universal has been doing recently in the classical market is any indication. Or unless you are an inveterate Katy Perry fan…

So the artist migration continues, fabulous performers screwed out of contracts or dropped summarily after debut albums—you could make a company out of those alone. Wait a minute! There are companies like that! One of them, artist-led at that, is Onyx, whose entire catalog is available in MP3 download format (at 320kbps) as well as hardcopy albums, with streaming samples offered as well as complete liner notes online. Enlightened? You bet, though SACD would be welcomed. And as well they are amassing a roster of performers second to none. One of these, without question, is the wonderful Susan Graham, whose efforts gratified the Sony and Erato executives, at least for a while. This is her second recording for Onyx.

Here she shines in musical examples of holy women, starting with the Virgin Mary and her incredibly moving appeal to the Archangel Gabriel as posited by Henry Purcell. A whole new song cycle is created with the concatenation of music by various composers on the theme of Mignon, taken from Goethe’s second novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. What an idea! And Graham sings it with stunning success, weaving a common romantic thread around these composers that links them stylistically as well as story-wise. Poulenc’s Le chemins de l’amour invoke the vixen-like qualities of Grahams smokey singing, as well as her more studied reflections on the same composer’s Fiancailles pour rire, as virago-like as any cycle ever was. (A virago is, for those who don’t know, a woman who demonstrates exemplary and heroic qualities.)

The other works on this disc convey these same aspects of the triple-feminine portrait so abused, stereotyped, and sometimes truthfully uttered by poets and composers, especially in the realm of American popular song, which examples fit like a glove with the rest of the works on this disc. Graham is here given ample opportunity to display her versatility with exceptional style, grace, interpretative understanding, and especially beautiful singing. This is a most delightful album, and if some of the sheen is off the now 52-year old soprano, she certainly makes up for it with intelligence and understanding long-writ in her consciousness born out of much experience. May there be many other discs like this one from her in the future!

TrackList:

HENRY PURCELL (1659–1695)
1 The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation 
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
2 La Mort d’Ophélie 
Six Mignon songs from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister
3 Lied der Mignon: Heiß mich nicht reden (Franz Schubert)
4 So laßt mich scheinen (Robert Schumann)
5 Mignons Lied (Franz Liszt)
6 Romance de Mignon (Henri Duparc) 
7 Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
8 Kennst du das Land (Hugo Wolf)
JOSEPH HOROVITZ (b.1926)
9 Lady Macbeth (scena) 
FRANCIS POULENC (1899–1963)
Fiançailles pour rire
10 I La dame d’André 
11 II Dans l’herbe 
12 III Il vole 
13 IV Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant 
14 V Violon 
15 VI Fleurs 
COLE PORTER (1891–1964)
16 The Physician 
VERNON DUKE (1903–1969)
17 Ages Ago 
FRANCIS POULENC
18 Les chemins de l’amour 
STEPHEN SONDHEIM (b.1930)
19 The Boy from Tacarembo La Tumbe del Fuego
Santa Malipas Zatatecas La Junta del Sol y Cruz
 
—Steven Ritter
 



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