Erwin Schrott: "Arias"
By Bizet, Boito, Gomes, Gounod, Massenet, Offenbach, Puccini, Sorozábal and Verdi. With R. Shaham; Coliban; ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Wiener Staatsopernchor, Rustioni. Texts and translations. Sony 88691971162
In his latest recital disc, bass-baritone Erwin Schrott leaves behind Mozart to focus on heavier and more overtly dramatic fare. While he does rise to the challenge of tackling many of the obstacles presented by these arias, ultimately Schrott is unable to attain consistently the level of excellence achieved by the most impressive of his ancestors in this repertoire — among them Nicolai Ghiaurov, George London, Samuel Ramey and Cesare Siepi — whose voices innately possessed a richer, more authoritative sound. Yet Schrott's primary stumbling block here is not his voice per se but the fact that he makes technical choices that sacrifice tonal brilliance for a weightier vocal profile.
Particularly in his lower range, Schrott tends to over-darken and swallow his tone, so that it becomes artificially woofy. ("Scintille, diamant," from Les Contes d'Hoffmann,is a prime example, though the heroic high A-flat at the end is accomplished in electrifying fashion.) At other times, however, he successfully employs a brighter, more "forward" approach that permits his voice to retain vibrancy of timbre and to have easier access to high notes — something that he achieves in "Le veau d'or," from Faust. This inconsistency is most obvious in Escamillo's "Votre toast," from Carmen, in which Schrott's voice is all over the map, sometimes switching from dark to bright and then back again in mid-phrase. The high Fs are similarly inconsistent, with some sounding choked off and others ringing freely.(In addition, it must be noted that Schrott's French here is inauthentic at best, and the manner in which he routinely chops off the word "Toreador" with a rolled "r" is quite bizarre.) The second of three arias from Boito's Mefistofele (the wide-ranging "Son lo spirito che nega") finds Schrott pushing his voice a bit too far, with moments of stridency clearly apparent. The disc's final track, Scarpia's "Tre sbirri," from Tosca,is well sung, but conductor Daniele Rustioni fails to make the most of the climactic ending.
Having said all this, there are some strong moments to be found. The tender final scene from Massenet's Don Quichotte allows Schrott the opportunity to find more introspective colors in his voice — a refreshing respite from the no-holds-barred nature of the rest of the album — while a selection from Verdi's I Lombardi ("Sciagurata!") showcases his ability to sing in true bel canto style. Three welcome rarities are also presented — "Di sposo, di padre," from Carlos Gomes's Salvator Rosa, as well as "No te acerques" and the utterly enchanting "Despierta, negro/La luna es blanca," from Pablo Sorozábal's zarzuela La Tabernera del Puerto.
The ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien provides excellent accompaniments, and the Wiener Staatsopernchor joins Schrott frequently throughout the program to good effect (though a rather horrifying pitch slip for the ladies occurs during the nuns' chorus in the Lombardi selection). Baritone Sorin Coliban appears on several tracks, most notably in the Don Quichotte selection — in which, as elsewhere, he sings somewhat nasally and out of tune. Mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham joins in the Quichotte scene as Dulcinée, her ethereal contribution helping to create one of the more magical moments on the disc.
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