Of all the laudatory epithets applicable to Barbara Bonney, “radiant” might not be the one that springs to mindat least, not insofar as it suggests the warm luxuriance of sunshine. Bonney’s light, bright lyric soprano is something else: a voice of delicate refinement and transparent, pure-toned beauty. But it’s capable of silkily seductive textures too; and there are wonderful examples on this compilation disc that, if featuring a less well-established artist, might qualify as a demo tape. Most of the tracks are previously issued but together they define her capabilities and home-base repertory, from Bach, Purcell and Mozart through to Scandinavian song and Richard Strauss. –Michael White .
No matter how passionate soprano Barbara Bonney gets, she never loses the unsullied purity of her tone. And in this 1994 disc of Schubert songs, Bonney often has cause to get passionate: her artless Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (D. 965) is transformed by passionate virtuosity, her mournful Mignon Lieder (D. 877) are transcended by passion, and her ecstatic Ganymed (D. 544) is transfigured by passion. But through all of it, Bonney's tone stays pure, the voice of stainless innocence in the face of sorrow, shame and even death. This is almost – but not quite always – a good thing. Bonney can surely sing the songs: her voice is sweet and her technique is graceful…
Barbara Bonney's recital of the Schumanns' songs is prefaced, in the booklet-note, with a little feminist homily from the singer defending the reputation of Clara as woman and artist. Clara hardly needs that kind of defence nowadays, witness recent CDs by Skovhus and Stutzmann, plus several others not reviewed in these pages; her songs are far from patronized, let alone neglected. Yet, for all the advocacy of these singers, her inspiration remains for me intermittent, though thoroughly conventional songs are occasionally leavened by notably individual ones, such as, here, her very last and unpublished song, Loreley, which vividly conjures up that dangerous creature, particu lady in the hectic piano part, evocatively played by Ashkenazy. Indeed it seems that Heine most inspired her, as "Sic liebten sich beide" from her Op. 13 provoked a setting of economically intense meaning, to which Bonney finely responds.– Gramophone [9/1997].
Pergolesi’s sublime setting of the Stabat mater, a 13th-century text that was accepted as part of the Catholic liturgy only in 1727, was written at the end of his brief life (he died in 1736 at the age of 26) and suggests that had he lived longer his name might be as familiar as Vivaldi. Rossini, in particular, admired it to such an extent that he was reluctant to accept the commission for his own setting (1842) on the grounds that it could never equal Pergolesi’s.
It would be hard to imagine a better assemblage of performers than those gathered for this recording, and the result is perfection. Scholl’s voice is miraculously pure, focused and beautiful. And compared, say, to his 1995 recording of Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater, it has acquired a dramatic depth and shed its slightly antiseptic quality. It is impeccably complemented by Bonney’s lighter, brighter tone and equally graceful, sincere and unmannered interpretation. Properly, they never exaggerate or overplay the gravity and melancholy of the texts, leaving one in no doubt as to the spiritual and emotional essence of the work. Christophe Rousset inspires superlative playing from the young Lyon-based period-instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, revealing every exquisite detail, layer and texture of the score. An outstanding achievement.(Claire Wrathall, BBC Music Magazine)
“During this visit, these young ladies were so obliging as to sing me a Salve regina, lately set by their father, in duo. It is an exquisite composition, full of grace, taste and propriety.” What more could one ask of an antiphon than that which Charles Burney found in an impromptu performance by Hasse’s daughters during a visit to their father in Vienna in 1772? Hasse composed several settings of the Salve regina of which Reinhard Goebel has chosen two for his interesting programme of vocal and instrumental pieces by the composer.
Certainly the somber beauty of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and strings has a lot to do with its popularity. But it must be said that the story of the 26-year-old composer completing the work on his deathbed has always been too romantic for the public–or the music business–to resist. "The instant his death was known," wrote the famous 18th-century traveler Dr. Burney, "all Italy manifested an eager desire to hear and possess his productions." And so it's been ever since. In spite of the competition already on the market, it seems Decca just had to get its prize lyric soprano and hotshot young countertenor together to record the piece. –Matthew Westphal
In 1988 when this period-instrument Figaro was released, the style was still a novelty, and Ostman gained some notoreity for his rushed tempos as well as the scrawniness of his chamber orchestra, by far the smallest to play this great opera on CD. Yet when I read a glowing review by Andrew Porter in the New Yorker, I immediately bought the performance, shortly discovering that it was a true gem in the extensive Figaro catalog.
By Santa Fe Listener
The singers are all good, the orchestra light, lively and evocative. But it is above all Patrice Chereau's direction that makes this production one of the best filmed opera experiences I have had. This is a fairly long opera (about 3 hours), but it flies by in this version with rapid and telling movement on stage and in the pit, and with a constantly moving camera. Chereau's is an expectedly dark interpretation, both modern and classical, that refuses to play up the buffo elements and achieves a remarkably heart-rending, bittersweet effect. The singers are all well-coached actors; we are never allowed to forget that we are watching a performance (occasional views of the conductor in the pit) but that doesn't mar the emotional impact of one of Mozart's most touching scores. Period costumes on what is made to seem to be a bare, ancient Italian stage..
'It’s possible to recreate everything about an eighteenth century opera except the audience,’ says director Robert Carsen in a documentary included with this DVD. ‘My work is for modern audiences.’ And how. Les Boréades (1763) is Rameau’s last opera, and tells the story of Alphise, a queen torn between her obligation to marry a Boréade (a descendant of the god Boreas) and her love for a poor young Apollonian priest. In this brilliant production, Carsen goes to the heart of the drama by turning the piece into a contest between the forces of tradition and innovation, with the Boréade court dressed in severe, tightly tailored 1940s Dior and the Apollonians in loose white linen… (Classic fM)
Barbara Bonney has discovered what she likens to "a new species or a new island in the Pacific": 27 songs by Mozart's youngest son, born five months before his father's death. Though she admits that their importance is mostly "musicological," she loves them–hence this recording. Franz Xavier Mozart, not surprisingly, had musical talent, but it was his mother's astute business sense and determination to cash in on her husband's fame that fuelled his career as pianist and composer; she even added "Wolfgang" to his name. Listening to these songs, one can hardly escape the conclusion that if the composer's name were not Mozart, nobody would have troubled to unearth or perform them…