CD Review: Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene (Decca)


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Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene
Songs by Fauré, Grieg, Hahn, Liszt,
Nico Muhly, Kevin Puts, Caroline Shaw

Renée Fleming, soprano.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano

Decca 4852089

★★★★✩ / ★★✩✩✩

Good to hear that America’s prime diva is not going gentle into that good night. Past 60 and no longer taking operatic roles, she sings out full and flamboyant in this set of nature-themed songs that came together during her daily walks in the COVID lockdown. Everything you’d expect from a Fleming recital is here – the effortless highs, the velvety lows, the flawless intonation, the jumbled syllables in several tongues.

Her choice of songs is, to say the least, eclectic. A smoochy opening track called “Evening” by Kevin Puts could be mistaken in a blind hearing for something 1930ish by Barber or Copland. Nico Muhly’s “Endless Space” is a chip off the old Britten. The most compelling of her living composers is Caroline Shaw, whose “Aurora Borealis” evokes exactly what you’d expect from the title – flashes and sparks in the northern sky, too high and unearthly for other voices ever to reach. It’s an instant classic.

The rest of the recital is made up of French songs by Fauré, Hahn and Liszt and German ones by the Norwegian Edvard Grieg, who never writes louder than lovely. The pianist in all 16 tracks is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre Métropolitain, altogether too busy a man to spare much time for piano practice. Yannick, whom Renée thanks “for his gifts as an artist, colleague and friend,” is a pianist of no discernible merit except the maintenance of steady tempo. His playing lacks subtlety or surprise. Worse, it lacks colour to the point of mortal pallor. Every shade of beauty released by the singer’s larynx is met by plodding fingers on a monochrome keyboard. Some conductors – Barenboim, Pappano, Levine, Previn – are natural partners in a song recital, a skill acquired in teenaged rehearsal contact with singers. Yannick, fine orchestral leader that he is, is not on this evidence much use as a piano partner. It’s one of the many jobs he can afford to give up


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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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