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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.
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).