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Recordings

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait
05 Aug 2017

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Emalie Savoy, Sopran; Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt; Matthias Foremny, Dirigent; Jonathan Ware, Klavier.

GEN 16436 [CD]

$18.99  Click to buy

Here we have the first CD to be released in the series. It features the American soprano Emalie Savoy, first-prize winner in the vocal category during the 2015 competition. Over the course of the CD, Savoy demonstrates great vocal artistry and an ability to handle a wide range of roles and song literature, both with orchestra and with piano. The CD is a bit short (53 minutes), but the five pieces that it includes are undoubtedly meaty: Ravel’s Shéhérazade; one aria each from Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, Dvořak’s Rusalka, and Weber’s Der Freischütz; and a complete performance of Barber’s Hermit Songs, a cycle of ten short but trenchant settings, for voice and piano, of poems by medieval Irish monks. (Click here to hear Savoy sing the famous “Song to the Moon,” from Rusalka.)

Savoy, from Schenectady NY, has a full and generally firm voice which is lustrous when soft and becomes exciting, yet not edgy, on full-throttle high notes. She was well trained at Juilliard (Bachelor’s and Master’s) and has completed the Lindemann Young Artists Program at the Met. I am impressed that a large voice can handle the melismatic passages in the Weber cabaletta so well. In that same cabaletta, Savoy also shows that she is well informed about how to resolve appoggiaturas. (Click here to hear her do the Weber aria.)

Savoy has sung secondary roles at major houses such as the Met and the renowned Grand Théâtre in Geneva, Switzerland (e.g., Sylviane in The Merry Widow and the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte), and leading roles at Juilliard and regional venues (e.g., Mozart’s Countess at the Castleton Festival in Virginia). From what I hear on this CD, her voice would easily fill a big hall. Savoy sings with evident understanding in all the selections. (Click here for the first song in the Ravel.) The Brandenburg State Orchestra plays wonderfully here, as does pianist Jonathan Ware in the Barber songs. (The orchestra’s home is in Frankfurt an der Oder—a smallish city about 300km to the southeast of Berlin, just across the river from Poland.)

I must also report some weaknesses. Though Savoy rarely if ever mispronounces words in any of the five languages on display here (or at least in the three languages that I know well enough to judge), she does not always enunciate clearly. I had trouble catching about half of the text in the Barber, even in certain songs that I have heard many times before. Perhaps the very richness of Savoy’s voice is an impediment. Some long notes also show a slow vibrato that, at least at this point in her development, is not wide but might become an obtrusive wobble over time. I hope I am wrong.

The orchestra is sometimes recorded too far in the background, making the singer an almost overbearing presence. A few times I had to replay a passage in order to hear fully what the orchestra had just contributed. There is at times, in the Weber, a loud and long echo that can compete with the singer’s next notes. In the Hermit Songs, the cavernous echo makes the piano clattery. (Click here for the third song from the cycle, “St. Ita’s Vision.”) On the 1954 studio recording of that cycle with Leontyne Price and the composer (monophonic, still available on Sony), voice and piano are perfectly balanced, and Price conveys the words beautifully. Alas, the RCA Victor recording that preserves the work’s premiere performance at the Library of Congress (likewise with Price and Barber) was recorded wanly, though I have read that its re-release on Bridge is somewhat improved. (That world-premiere performance by Price and the composer can be sampled by clicking here: again, Song no. 3: “St. Ita’s Vision.”)

In short, this is an excellent introduction to a gifted new singer, who could potentially be singing major roles at major houses. She reminds me of another big-voiced soprano, Angela Meade, who jumped, directly and successfully, from the Met Auditions to singing the main female role in Verdi’s Ernani at the Met. Savoy handles well very different kinds of music from across the nineteenth century and into the mid-twentieth. The CD gave me much pleasure, though, almost inevitably, from a collector’s point of view, many of the items on it are performed at least as well elsewhere. I would not want to live without Régine Crespin’s classic recording of Shéhérazade (conducted by Ernest Ansermet).

Full texts in the original languages and in English. The program notes interestingly point out how the five works here all treat the theme of loneliness. Unfortunately, the English translations throughout the booklet are sometimes unidiomatic or even wrong: “principal” becomes “principle,” and the song title “L’Indifférent” gets translated as “The Different One” instead of “The Indifferent One.”

Ralph P. Locke

The above review is a lightly revised version of one that first appeared in American Record Guide and appears here by kind permission.

Ralph P. Locke is emeritus professor of musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. His most recent two books are Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections and Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart (both Cambridge University Press). Six of his articles have won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music. He edits Eastman Studies in Music, a book series published by University of Rochester Press.

   

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