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Recordings

Leyla Gencer in Concert
19 Jul 2006

Leyla Gencer in Concert

There are lieder-recitals and there are lieder-recitals. In my experience Lucia Popp, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Margaret Price stuck to their Lieder-guns till the last item, sometimes offering Strauss’ Zueignung as an encore.

Leyla Gencer in Concert

Leyla Gencer, soprano, Walter Baracchi, piano.

Myto Historical 062112 [CD]

$10.99  Click to buy

And then there are the more, shall I say, ‘modern’ singers, usually not from Central Europe, who know all too well the public is there for the voice and less for high art. When the official programme is over, the public sighs a bit and waits for the real meat: some unabashed opera aria where the singer can finally lash out. Grace Bumbry was one of the first to use the method. Studer, Kasarova and Hvorostovsky refined it by often choosing such lieder (often by Strauss or Tchaikovsky) that could easily have been an aria. And Renée Fleming really found the solution to it all by carefully choosing a theme, like music inspired by Goethe so that she could hop from Gretchen am Spinrade to “Roi de Thulé – Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle” from Gounod’s Faust a long time before the encores were on.

This Gencer-recital still goes back to the time when opera was reserved for the encores but make no mistake. The La Scala public puts up with the music out of love for the soprano and not out of reverence for Bartok or Liszt. Though the Hungarian songs are divided into groups according to a theme, Gencer already gets a hearty applause after the first song while the second one goes without though it concludes the theme. If anyone should still have doubts, try track 3; a slow Transylvanian dancing song. Gencer finishes it with her trade mark: an ascending pianissimo that seems to last for eternity and the house comes down as this is the exact thing they came to hear. Not that the record’s worth is limited to Gencer’s famous head voice. She is in fabulous voice: warm and charming and at her best behaviour. The many glottal attacks she often used and which sometimes marred her operatic performances are almost completely absent. The voice stands like a house and there is no trace of a wobble. With her peculiar sound, she is of course at her best in slow melancholy songs like the Lamento Panaze (track 8). I cannot judge her Hungarian but she is probably one of the few non-native speakers at the time to get away with it as Hungarian is not a European but an Asian language that adapted a lot of Turkish words; and Gencer is, after all, the most famous Turkish singer.

In the Liszt songs she is even better, especially in Pace non trovo (track 18) where she can mix pathos with her virtuosic agility borne out from long experience with Donizetti. And then it’s time for the public to sit back and relax and listen to her encores: a noble rendering of Roberto Devereux, a heart warming ‘Ah non credea’ from Sonnambula, a role she had only sung twice in her long career. And, being an old pro, she refrains from adding the cabaletta ‘Ah! Non giunge’ which probably would have put too much strain on the voice after such a long career. She ends with an aria from Les Martyrs, the reworked version of Poliuto which she had created in modern times and which she would sing once again two months after this La Scala recital (available on CD; a must). I would advise to have the sleeve notes in hand when purchasing this record. They are really informative and are written by Franca Cella, who wrote a big Italian-language biography of the soprano (which was sadly never translated into another language).

Jan Neckers

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