Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

Songs by Mahler, Handel & Peter Lieberson

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London's Wigmore Hall occasionally releases recordings of memorable performances in its space, and this CD documents a remarkable 1998 recital by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She's in gorgeous voice, with a creamy consistency over the broad range that this repertoire traverses. As is typical of her performances, she sings with a passionate intensity that draws the listener into the suffering of the character she's portraying, or of the poetry's essence. She brings a special warmth and fervor of Mahler's Fünf Rückert Lieder, but perhaps the highlight of the album is "As with rosy steps," from Handel's Theodora. Her astonishingly smooth phrasing, and the strength and vulnerability of her characterization are breathtaking. The collection includes three pieces by her husband Peter Lieberson, two songs from his Five Rilke Songs, and an aria from his opera Ashoka's Dream, whose production at Santa Fe in 1996 was the occasion that brought the singer and composer together. Hunt Lieberson has recorded the complete Rilke Songs in their orchestral incarnation, but this version for piano reveals them as more lyrical, transparent, and emotionally engaging. The aria from Ashoka's Dream, while less musically compelling, gives Hunt Lieberson a chance to revel in the virtuosity it requires. Her encores, Deep River and Brahms' Unbewegte laue Luft, are wrenchingly poignant. Roger Vignoles offers sensitive and self-effacing accompaniment. The sound of the live performance includes some ambient noise in the pauses between songs and a low-level hiss at the very quietest moments, but it's generally not enough to be disturbing and the balance is excellent. The CD should be of strong interest to Hunt Lieberson's fans, and to listeners who love vocal music in general.

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