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Frederica von Stade: "Salzburg Recital"

spacer Songs by Canteloube, Copland, Fauré, Ives, Mahler, Pasatieri, Poulenc, Schönberg, R. Strauss; Katz, piano. No texts. Orfeo C 870 121 B

Revolutionary Lady

A live recital from Salzburg captures Frederica von Stade in peak form, showing charm and accomplishment in a diverse but delightful program of song.

VonStadeCD

Frederica von Stade's protean approach to music has opened doors (and set standards) for Susanne Mentzer, Susan Graham, Joyce DiDonato and other lyric mezzos who have followed. On August 18, 1986, after more than a dozen years of stardom — largely in Mozart and Rossini, but with triumphs to her name in Monteverdi, Berlioz, Massenet and Richard Strauss in Europe and North America — she gave a solo recital at Salzburg's prestigious if acoustically demanding Grosses Festspielhaus. Orfeo now releases the happy results in its welcome series of live Salzburg Liederabenden.

Von Stade collaborated with longtime accompanist Martin Katz on a program whose diversity apparently raised eyebrows among the more tradition-bound Festival patrons. Yet the applause is generous. From our perspective today, the program doesn't seem all that revolutionary — Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, groups of Fauré and Strauss, American songs by Copland, Ives and Pasatieri, three Brettl-Lieder, plus a quartet of sunny Canteloube songs, quite delightfully done, and encores by Poulenc and Offenbach. But a quarter-century ago, many recital audiences largely expected Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Von Stade is in very good estate here, demonstrating a fine balance between the strengths of her youthful and mature vocal personae. Katz is an alert and supportive partner, his sound steady if sometimes a mite foursquare.

Von Stade elsewhere recorded Fauré songs with pianist Jean-Philippe Collard, including the charming "Mandoline," which is included here. She commands excellent French style and aptly lean, pointed tone. The Strauss lieder, none of them chestnuts ("Rote Rosen," "Die erwachte Rose" and "Begegnung") also go very well. The testing Mahler cycle calls on the inherent poignancy in von Stade's voice to help create larger effects than nature perhaps intended. Von Stade could produce the dark color the lowest notes demand, but it can seem somewhat disassociated from the rest of her timbre. In passages requiring considerable volume, von Stade sometimes deployed an insistent vibrato different in aspect from her usual tonal clarity, but it's a considered artistic choice. 

The mezzo often programmed the songs in her American group. Copland's "Why did they shut me out of Heaven?" — with its question, "Did I sing too loud?" — is probably best-suited to someone with a Helen Traubel- or Christine Brewer-size instrument. We can be grateful that von Stade doesn't treat it as a one-joke song and mines the sentiment behind the Emily Dickinson lyrics. Ives's "Serenity" gets sensitively treated, but the two contrasted parts of the "Memories" are respectively too rushed and too distended. Pasatieri's "Vocal Modesty," of negligible musical quality, is what it is; many will recall von Stade's final line ("I've slaved since my teens!") from her recital work as a foretaste of the unexpected ferociousness she brought to Mme. de Merteuil in Susa's Dangerous Liaisons at San Francisco Opera. Schoenberg's cabaret songs always tend to strike me as more interesting in concept than in execution, but the performances here show charm and accomplishment. Poulenc's "Fêtes galantes" is taken at a rather headlong clip. The sole aria is the final encore, a von Stade specialty — Périchole's tipsy "Ah! quel dîner," with delightfully rolled rs in "grise" and "grillard." spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2