> Choral and Song
"Great Voices Sing John Denver"
With De Niese, Graves, Padilla, Racette, Zajick; P. Domingo, P. Domingo, Jr., Montenegro, Polenzani, Skelton, Gilfry, Gunn, Hampson, Pape, Shenyang. No texts. MPE Music
The seeds of this recording were planted in the early 1980s, when John Denver and Plácido Domingo famously recorded "Perhaps Love" as a duet, at the suggestion of Denver's longtime producer, Milt Okun. It was a smash hit, partly because Domingo's approach was to sing as much of the song as possible before letting on that he could "sing." His focus remained on the words, and his voice responded as needed. Another plus was Denver's guitar, which provided an anchor to the earth underneath the tasteful synthesized embellishments. The song struck a remarkable balance between staying true to its essence while making room for a fuller voice.
The singers who fare best here are those who, like Domingo, let the emotional response spring naturally from the text. Even so, their efforts are often undone by soupy, synthetic arrangements that overwhelm Denver's disarming directness and push the singers to compete. Patricia Racette scores points for checking all operatic mannerisms at the door, rendering "Leaving on a Jet Plane" in a lusty, soulful chest voice; if only the producer (Okun again) had had the courage to let her sing it with just acoustic guitar. Dolora Zajick makes thrillingly tenorial sounds in her straightforward rendition of "Like a Sad Song," and Shenyang takes a gentle, inviting approach to "Shanghai Breezes," backed up by flute and harp in both English and Mandarin. Although his English is a little awkward, René Pape scales down his majestic bass nicely for "Follow Me." Stuart Skelton and Barbara Padilla stay just to the right side of crossover in "Fly Away."
The rest of the tracks are overbaked, except the anthem-like "The Eagle and the Hawk," which is ennobled by film-score instrumental treatment and a trio of big voices in harmony — Rod Gilfry, Daniel Montenegro and Zajick. And yes, "Perhaps Love" is on here, only this time Domingo is joined by his son, Plácido, Jr. If the performance doesn't achieve the same appealing alchemy of the original, the father–son dynamic makes a touching replacement for the meeting of minds across styles.
JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER
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