OPERA NEWS - Jamie Barton: "All Who Wander"
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Jamie Barton: "All Who Wander"

CD Button Songs by Dvořák, Mahler and Sibelius. Zeger, piano. Texts and translations. Delos DE 3494

Recordings Jamie Barton Cover 517
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THE VOCAL LINE of Sibelius’s song “Flickan kom” reaches its culmination on an A-flat above the staff. The harmonic strategy of the song has prepared us for the moment, and so has the text: it’s the point at which the singer is ready to share the sad secret of her meetings with her lover. That A-flat on this disc brings out something very special in Jamie Barton’s voice. The note retains the lush texture of the mezzo-soprano’s middle register, but with the ascent on high now lending the sound an extra edge of urgency: it sounds like she’s unleashing a torrent of passion.

The extraordinary voice provides pleasure up and down its range—and throughout this recital. It’s a big sound, unforced in its amplitude, never shuddering under pressure. Even at loud dynamics (as in the climax of Mahler’s “Um Mitternacht”), Barton seems to have something in reserve. She has an exciting chest register, flintier than the rest of her voice, but marvelously solid. The low B that caps Sibelius’s “Var det en dröm?” finishes the song (and the recital) on a note of unquestionable finality. It’s like slamming shut a satisfying novel at its end. You can also at that moment hear, in the gusto of Barton’s delivery, a sense of exultation in the wonderful dream that the song has described.

Barton’s ease on top allows her to deliver shimmering piano high notes, such as the repeated F-sharps that punctuate the first song on the disc, Mahler’s “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft.” But here I must cavil: those notes are so beautiful that they stop the song dead. In this, pianist Brian Zeger is Barton’s partner in crime: he revels in his partner’s gorgeous timbre (who can blame him?) at the expense of establishing a tensile musical line. 

The whole of the five Mahler Rückert-Lieder here seems more like an exploration of vocal possibilities than a settled interpretation. Barton is against unfair competition: these songs have been treated by most of the great lieder-singers of the past few generations. But I miss in her readings the inwardness that Christian Gerhaher, for instance, brings to this cycle. In Dvořák’s seven gypsy songs, a native Czech speaker might dig into the text more deeply, and a leaner voice might better etch the czárdás rhythm in “Struna naladeˇna.” But the beauty of Barton’s instrument and her skill in deploying it remain constant throughout this satisfying recital. —Fred Cohn 

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