Renée Fleming / Sakari Oramo / Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

Distant Light

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Nearly 58 years old when the recording was released in early 2017, Renée Fleming was obviously not content to retread familiar territory. True, she delivers a standard repertory (and quintessentially Fleming) performance in Samuel Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915, Op. 24, her just slightly smokier voice fitting Barber's lush setting of the James Agee text especially well. The Strand Settings of Anders Hillborg (in English) were commissioned from this Swedish composer by Fleming; they're in the grand tradition of Scandinavian nature evocations, and they fit Fleming's voice exceptionally well. But the big news here is the set of Björk songs. Fleming has always had a flair for material originating from the popular sphere, but her work here is exceptional. She alters her voice production to a startling degree, making much more use of the microphone than usual and offering a flat tone that does not imitate Björk, but plausibly suggests her. Yet she's still definitely recognizable as Renée Fleming. Sample Jóga, both for the flavor of the orchestral arrangements by Swedish composer Hans Ek and for Fleming's apparent affinity for such lines as "a state of emergency is where I want to be." The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under Sakari Oramo keeps up with Fleming's changing moods here, and the end result is an unusually strong Fleming release.

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