Lorraine Hunt Lieberson


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American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died in 2006, just three years after the performance of Bach's Cantata No. 199, "Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut" (My Heart Swims in Blood), BWV 199, heard here was recorded live with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Although one of the most highly regarded singers of her time, Hunt Lieberson did not leave a large recorded legacy. Live recordings of her are prized and have been trickling out since her death. This is a superb example. More known for Baroque opera than for Bach, Hunt Lieberson turned to Bach later in life, while she was suffering from the cancer that would eventually kill her. She took her operatic trademarks -- detailed, extremely sensitive response to the text and a great variety of unique vocal moves, including unusual tempo freedom, deployed in support of it -- and applied them to this darkest of Bach's solo cantatas, where the sufferings of the despondent sinner are relieved only at the very end by heavenly light. Even in rehearsals, recalls one of the annotators, the musicians were gripped by Hunt Lieberson's performance; in the actual concert it is extraordinarily powerful. There are a few complaints, of course. Opening the program is a very zippy Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV 1049, recorded in 2011; combining extreme speed with sharp, clear articulation of the solo instruments, it's not uninteresting, but it hardly makes a good pairing with Hunt Lieberson's performance. The remastered sound from Yarlung Records seems to strip the live ambiance from the music. But one can see why they did so. The basic sound environment of Royce Hall at the University of California at Los Angeles renders Hunt Lieberson's voice clearly, and the engineers have opted for a straight-on, close-up view of the diamond.

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