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26 Jan 2009

Anna Netrebko: Souvenirs

The title of Anna Netrebko's most recent recital disc apparently springs from the musical selections' ability to prompt memories in the singer.

Works by Arditi, Charpentier, Dvorák, Giménez, Grieg, Guastavino, Hahn, Heuberger, Kálmán, Lehár, Lloyd Webber, Messager, Offenbach, Rimsky-Korsakov, R. Strauss.

Anna Netrebko, Elina Garanca, Piotr Beczala, Andrew Swait. Prague Philharmonia. Emmanuel Villaume (cond.)

Deutsche Grammophon 477 7451 [CD]

$15.99  Click to buy

According to the booklet note (by Warwick Thompson, in full diva-worship mode), Netrebko loved operetta before she came to opera - thus the pieces by Kálmán, Lehár, and Offenbach. In a more somber mode, Grieg’s “Solveigs Sang” turns out to be one of the first classical pieces she learned. Sometimes the concept gets stretched to pieces she simply has a fondness for singing, from some delightfully rare Rimsky-Korsakov to the less delightful and less rare “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem. We even get a traditional Hebrew lullaby.

With this sort of recital, of lighter musical selections and a rather scatter-shot theme, charm can and probably should carry the day. Undoubtedly, on stage Netrebko would have all the requisite charm and more. As recorded, it comes and goes. Put this down partly to the growth of her voice, which at many times in the recital just seems too large and voluptuous for the music. She does taper it down with success for the Lloyd Webber number; that scaled-back approach would have helped elsewhere as well. The “Depuis le Jour” in particular comes across as too grand. She can get through faster selections, such as the lively “La Tarántula é un bicho mú malo” by Gimenez, but she sounds rushed, even breathy. She may be a mistress of languages; your reviewer wouldn’t dare to judge her Yiddish, for example. Yet the most affecting tracks are the two gorgeous pieces by Rimsky-Korsakov, and perhaps part of the appeal there comes from her natural feel for the words.

Joining her for a pleasant but not very special Les Contes d’Hoffman “Barcarolle” is mezzo Elīna Garanča, and the fine tenor Piotr Beczala steps up for the familiar tune, if not title, of Heuberger’s “Im chambre Separee.” Emmanuel Villaume keeps things tasteful and brightly paced as he leads the Prague Philharmonic. Having at least a couple of the orchestrated selections in their original solo piano arrangements might have given the disc some welcome variety in approach.

This is a star’s recital - she gets to sing what she wants to sing, how she wants to sing it. Truly, Souvenirs is more enjoyable than Netrebko’s first two DG recitals, with their overly familiar repertoire. But as her stardom has grown, so has her voice. Maybe it is time for Netrebko to really let it rip in some challenging pieces that will benefit from the sheer size of her beautiful voice.

Chris Mullins

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