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CD Review

The Radiant Voice Of Barbara Bonney

Decca 468818
  • Selections by Dowland, Purcell, Bach, Pergolesi, Mozart, Donizetti, Schumann, Grieg, Sibelius, R. Strauss, Berg, Orff, Lloyd Webber, and Previn
Barbara Bonney, soprano
Various accompaniments
Decca 468818-2 DDD 75.52
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Here's an enjoyable sampler of recordings that New Jersey-born soprano Barbara Bonney has made for Universal Classics Group labels (mostly Decca) since 1986. The selections have been arranged roughly in chronological order, by year of composition, a format that works surprisingly well. Songs, arias, and operatic scenes are mixed together, and that works well too. Another level of variety is given by the musicians and singers who accompany Bonney. Her partners are as basic as a lute or a piano (Vladimir Ashkenazy in Robert Schumann's Mondnacht), or as complex as a full symphony orchestra. Other singers appear too: tenor Gösta Winbergh in the Act I duet from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, countertenor Andreas Scholl in an aria from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, treble Anthony Way in the inescapable "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in the Presentation of the Rose from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. The last selection has not been released until now, and fans of either singer will want this CD for that recording alone.

I admit to being not overly familiar with Bonney when I received this CD. (I tend to listen mostly to singers who are dead or at least retired!) I felt like I was in very good hands throughout the length of the program. Bonney's silvery clear voice is easy on the ears, and its clarity has not been obtained at the expense of personality. Her subtle coloring of a word or a phrase is very effective. With Bonney, the Lament from Dido and Aeneas is anything but diva-ish: in pain, she draws ever more in upon herself. Her Mozart is pure but not precious, and her interpretation of Scandinavian music (two songs by Sibelius and "Solveig's Song" from Grieg's Peer Gynt) is unaffected. (Bonney lived in Sweden for eight years.)

Bonney has described herself as "a Lieder singer who happens to do opera," and denies having much of a temperamental affinity for Italian opera in particular. Nevertheless, it is easy to hear how her smart Adina would break the heart of Winbergh's Nemorino. That's Bonney's singing: it's intelligence and seductiveness, although the latter is more that of the invigorating North than of the enervating South.

There are no texts and translations. The engineering, despite the multiple sources, is consistently of a high standard. Whether you're a Bonney fan, or largely unacquainted as I was, this CD has pleasures and delights in store for you.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle

Trumpet