A lovely album about music and words

Ever unpredictable, the enterprising label Bright Shiny Things will soon be releasing INK [BSTC-0148], an impressively conceived debut album from the boundary-breaking Merz Trio.

What an interesting concept it is to juxtapose readings of French poetry from the intensely creative intra-war period of 1914 onwards with French music of that time.

Here three extrodinary artists: pianist Lee Dionne, violinist Brigid Coleridge, and cellist Julia Yang share the poetic and journal works of Jean Cocteau, Charles Péguy, Anna de Noailles, Léon-Paul Fargue, Alain-Fournier, Blaise Cendrars, and Guillaume Apollinaire eloquently read by them back to back with movements from Maurice Ravel’s 1914 trio for piano, cello and violin, Lili Boulanger’s D’un vieux jardin, Nadia Boulanger’s Heures terns, Claude Debussy’s La plus que lente, Mélanie Bonis’ Morning, and Zortziko/Fandango, an original composition by the trio’s pianist Lee Dionne.

Not shying away from the world of pop/cabaret music the album includes Sous les ponts de Paris, as an homage to the American chanteuse Josephine Baker, who unbeknownst to many, worked underground in the French resistance during the German occupation of Paris.

Throughout the multiple tracks the trio’s playing is impeccably elegant, earmarked by unmannered musicianship and sui generis stylistic versatility. This listener heartily agrees with the insights put into words in the album’s liner notes:  “INK… is an album about music and words sharing their dark, untidy medium, spilling onto the page as notes and letters, and spoken into the world by voices and instruments… It is about how we put our ear to a distant time and what we might hear there, as well as how we bring these voices into the present…”


An excellent new recording of I Puritani

On August 20, 2021, Delos will release a 3-CD recording (DE 3537) of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera I Puritani.

Not since the 1953 studio recordings of Bellini’s Bel Canto tour de force with deluxe casts: the vintage Cetra with Callas, Di Stefano, Panerai, and Rossi-Lemeni, and the various 1960’s releases with Dame Joan Sutherland leading various casts has there been such a cohesively stylish group of soloists as the one assembled by DELOS for this effort.

With veteran Opera specialist Constantine Orbelian, the newly appointed music director of the New York City Opera, helming Lithuania’s Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and State Choir the results are nothing short of excellent.

Two Americans: soprano Sarah Coburn as Elvira and tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Arturo are joined by Kazakhstani baritone Azamat Zheltyrguzov as Riccardo, and Lithuanian bass Tadas Girininkas as Sir Giorgio Walton, heading an international cast that includes Liudas Norvaišas, Jovita Vaškevičiūtė and Tomas Pavilionis.

Bellini gifted his four leads with some show-stopping music, none showier than the challenging arias that must be negotiated by the soloists: A te o cara and Credeasi misera (with a high F above high C, no less) both conceived for Rubini, the Italian tenor who, joined by Grisi, Tamburini and Lablache was part of the famed Puritani Quartet.

The soprano who undertakes the role of Elvira must be comfortable singing highly embellished music – Son vergine vezzosa and long-lined cantabile scenes – Qui la voce, and then match the tenor in Vieni fra queste braccia.

The baritone who sings the part of Riccardo has to have suppleness and lyricism for A per sempre and power for the Suoni la tromba duet with the bass, who himself must be able to spin out seamless legato in Cinta di fiori.

The good news is that the silvery voiced Sarah Coburn, the superb Lawrence Brownlee, the very fine lyric baritone Azamat Zheltyrguzov, and the impressive basso cantante  Tadas Girininkas meet the demands of their assignments with elegant vocalism, turning what can often be a competition for the spotlight into an ensemble effort in which the sum of the parts equals great results.

The recording is superbly engineered and nobly produced, something one has come to expect from this enterprising label.

Rafael de Acha        ALL ABOUT THE ARTS