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Reviews

René Pape: Gods, Kings & Demons
26 Jan 2009

René Pape: Gods, Kings & Demons

The first solo operatic recital from the great German bass René Pape bears a title that serves as an homage to an esteemed predecessor, George London.

René Pape: Gods, Kings & Demons

René Pape, Staatskapelle Dresden, Sebastian Weigle (cond.)

Deutsche Grammophon 477 6408 [CD]

$14.99  Click to buy

A recording on Columbia from the early 1950s, titled “Of Gods and Demons,” featured London in many of the same selections heard on Pape’s “Gods, Kings & Demons” (the unfortunate ampersand courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon’s graphics department). Sony later released a compilation of that particular London disc with tracks from later ones in their Masterworks series, which has some of the “kings”-related repertoire, though not King Marke’s aria from Tristan und Isolde or King Philip’s from Don Carlo, two of Pape’s great successes, which he includes.

Sooner or later any creditable bass would sing most of this music, but it surely reflects Pape’s confidence at this point of his career for him to welcome direct comparison with the career of an established singer such as London. And this disc supplies ample evidence that Pape’s confidence is well-placed. London possessed a darker instrument, but along with the power, that shading conveyed a heaviness at times. Pape has all the music within his voice, but his instrument moves with greater ease when necessary, with waves of warmth and beauty. The two arias from Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon may well inspire some major company to stage the seldom-seen opera for Pape, whose handsome tone caresses the melodies with remarkable tenderness.

Actually, after the demonic energy in the opening tracks of Gounod, Boito, and Berlioz’s music for Mephistopheles, the recital does tend to slow down into a mode of reflection and dejection. Perhaps in a future recital Pape can find some material that allows him to express even more of his emotional range. Certainly this voice has a sensuality deserving of exposure.

Sebastian Weigle and the Staatskapelle Dresden give first-class support, in an impeccable acoustic that for once doesn’t cede warmth to that of an earlier recording such as London’s.

So Pape’s first solo recital does everything it should: showcase the best qualities of his voice and yet make one eager to hear more, live as well as recorded. Strongly recommended.

Chris Mullins

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