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Ute Lemper: “Forever: The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda”

spacer Songs by Lemper and Nisinman. With band. Steinway and Sons 30020

Recordings Ute Lemper Cover 315

From the evidence of this collection of Neruda settings, Ute Lemper’s skills as a songwriter are as dubious as her talents as a singer. She has written this material in collaboration with the bandoneon player and composer Marcelo Nisinman; even though he gets distinctly lower billing in the collaboration, a cynical listener might surmise that it is he who has given the music its professional gloss. But even so, none of it is especially interesting. The songs echo composers who have figured in Lemper’s repertory, like Astor Piazzolla and Jacques Brel, along with snippets of Erik Satie and Henry Mancini. But none of the music does much to bring out the Neruda poetry; the chugging pastiches smother the texture of the texts. 

But perhaps the music itself isn’t the problem so much as Lemper’s singing of it. Her voice is now pretty much a shambles; as if in compensation, she has amplified her already extravagant tendency toward mannerism. I can’t judge her treatment of Spanish, but in the disc’s four English-language numbers, she distorts vowel sounds beyond recognition: as sung by Lemper, the words “slow autumn” become “slaaahaw owtummmm.” She is prone to chaotic, moment-by-moment shifts in her manner of vocal production, but the basic sound consists of a yards’-wide vibrato with no tonal center. Rather than trying to control this, she pushes it to its limits, seemingly under the conviction that singing which offers so little musical pleasure must perforce be expressive. But the irony is that scant emotional content content comes through — only a colossal self-regard. By appropriating Neruda’s prestige in the service of a product so aesthetically empty, Lemper almost defiantly invites the label of “kitsch.” But maybe “chutzpah” is the better word. spacer 

FRED COHN

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