The Prince Consort - Ned Rorem - ClassicsToday

The only reason I can think of for Ned Rorem's songs to fail to thoroughly charm and entertain an audience is if the singer is stylistically inappropriate, unprepared, or in some way vocally and/or technically challenged. Nearly every song (and Rorem has written at least as many as Schubert!) is so melodically right and singable, the text so cleverly, ideally chosen, that you can do nothing but enjoy and smile and wait for the next little gem. Part of their charm and in some cases their more emotionally and intellectually engaging aspects owe something to an occasional nod to other masters of the genre--Bernstein (Alleluia), Britten (Jeanie with the light brown hair), Barber, Finzi, Poulenc. But there's always an easy, inevitable flow that just seems to be Rorem's knack--an uncanny ear for melody combined with an intimate love and knowledge of words and how they go together.

There are five singer/soloists in The Prince Consort, and in a program of 29 songs, dividing the material among the varied voices and personalities makes sense, hopefully resulting in optimal matches between song and interpreter. Happily, this is mostly the case, although with five different singers there's a good chance listeners will not be equally impressed with all of them. For me, most vocally pleasing and technically solid--and charismatic--are baritone Jacques Imbrailo and tenor Andrew Staples, who together or separately appear in 11 of the 29 selections. The other singers are quite fine, however I'm not a fan of soprano Anna Leese's Are you the new person drawn toward me?, where her upper-register tone becomes shrill and thin (yet her rendition of To a young girl, with its more moderate range, is wonderful); similarly, Jennifer Johnston's bright, light timbre--and strident upper register--is not always endearing (she's identified as a mezzo, but her voice is mostly center and top, without a distinctive lower register).

Taken as a whole recital, this is a highly enjoyable hour of listening--and thanks to the variety of songs and singers, Alisdair Hogarth's splendid piano accompaniments, and the complementary sound, it's an easy, quick-moving 60 minutes, reminding us of Rorem's genius for creating songs that not only speak to the texts but that continue to bless us all--singers and audiences--with their charismatic musical personalities. Recommended.

12 April 2010