Emma Bell - Songs by Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter and Joseph Marx - Fanfare

Emma Bell is a young British soprano of uncommon promise. In fact 'promise' is an unfair word, because that implies accomplishment yet to come Bell's accomplishment is very real right now. The singing here is confident, beautiful, glowing, intelligent and deeply involving. The voice itself is capable of gossamer lightness or of riding the big moments with ease. In addition, her wise choice of un-hackneyed repertoire raises the level of interest in this disc even higher.

This is a collection of late- and post- Romantic songs, and neither Bruno Walter nor Joseph Marx need be embarrassed to be included with Richard Strauss. Walter's songs have a dark-tinged beauty about them that is very affecting. Walter wrote a considerable amount of music early in his career before concentrating on conducting. Every time I have encountered his songs, the experience has left me wanting to hear more. Ms. Bell clearly didn't just "read through" these unfamiliar songs - she dug deeply into them. When the music requires a more dramatic touch (Walter's Die Lerche, for instance), we learn that Bell has plenty of power in reserve.

The same for the somewhat more-well known Marx, whose music has had much more exposure than Walter's (if nowhere near the kind that Strauss receives). Marx had a wonderful feel for the voice, and it is no wonder that he wrote some 120 songs. The ones that Bell has chosen fit her voice like a glove, and once again she brings a wide range of colour and feeling to the music.

The Strauss songs include some of his most well-known ones (Schlechtes Wetter) along with some less frequently heard gems. In all cases, we understand why Strauss was considered one of the great song composers of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

There are many recordings of Strauss songs by some of the greatest singers of the past 50 years. There is no reason for Emma Bell to feel out of place even with such competition. This is beautiful and engaging singing at the highest level, and when you add the fact that she has chosen a varied and unusual programme, this becomes a disc about which one can get excited. Rounding off the positives is the sensitive, colourful, imaginative accompanying of Andrew West. The recorded sound is spacious and warm, and Linn provides texts and translations. This is a disc to be treasured, and I will be looking for much more from Emma Bell in the future.

31 January 2005