Sunday, 28 April 2013

Two Baroque Sopranos

Into my postbox came Anna Prohaska singing airs and arias by Vivaldi, Purcell, Handel and a couple of others. And Dorothee Mields singing Telemann arias. Two German sopranos, repertoire from a similar time period (late 17th century, early 18th – an excellent era in music). Prohaska is with a “baroque” orchestra directed by Jonathan Cohen; Mields with a similar group led by Michi Gaigg. One on Archiv Produktion. The other on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.

Georg Philipp Telemann rose in my esteem once I discovered his vocal music (cantatas, and operas). Until recently, I had him pigeon-holed as old Herr Tafelmusik, but his arias are a different kettle of fish, and most attractive music. Ms Mields has a gentle, very feminine voice that fits the pieces on this CD like a glove. She also has splendid diction; if you lose your place in the texts in the booklet, it is easy to pick it up again. The Austrian band under Michi Gaigg makes a positive, thoroughly professional contribution. Listening to this CD is an excellent way to spend a Sunday morning.

Then on to Anna Prohaska. The Mields CD has two photos of the soprano; Ms Prohaska's has at least ten photos of its soprano, most in the guise of a wanton woodland nymph (for some reason or another, the disc is billed as “Enchanted Forest”). The vocal music of Handel and Purcell is always a sure-fire winner with me, though I am less keen on the two early verbose Italians tacked on to the end of the CD – Cavalli, and Monteverdi. My musical garden begins around the end of the 17th century with Purcell, and ends around 250 years later with Britten and Shostakovich. I have yards of Monteverdi's music in my collection, and it all sounds pretty much the same to my ears. Ms Prohaska's voice is more brilliant than Ms Mields and, recorded well forward as here, it can often sound rather strident. Playing the music at a volume where the soprano does not blow your socks off has the unfortunate effect of reducing much of the instrumental contribution to the background; the many violin solos by the ever-talented Stéphanie-Marie Degand (who leads the band) are very distant, a great pity in Purcell's “Oh let me weep”. I am also occasionally uneasy about Ms Prohaska's intonation, and her diction is not in the class of Dorothee Mields; lose your place in the text when Ms Prohaska is singing, and you are lost until the next aria.

So Dorothee goes on the “keep to hand” pile; Anna is filed on the shelf in the vocal compilation section.

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