This is the critical fortnight in September when labels launch vocal albums for the Christmas market and critics cower beneath the bed hoping they will go away. All the big names are out there, from Domingo to DiDonato, and most are doing just what you’d expect. Except Diana Damrau, who lands on my deck like an untimely spring breeze.
The voice soars free and the singer stamps her own emotions on the song
The Bavarian soprano usually covers mainstream opera from Mozart to Strauss with a dash of big Italian roles. Here, she dips into operetta, but with a personal twist. Aside from a handful of Johann Strauss, Lehár and Kalman, she sings mid-20th century Broadway rep, some in English, some in German. To my ears, My Fair Lady is much improved auf Deutsch (and with a burglar-scaring squeak), though Sweeney Todd stumbles a bit and Ms D does Andrew Lloyd Webber a favour by choosing Queen’s English for an aria from Phantom of the Opera, perhaps the most musical rendition it has ever received. David Charles Abell conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in top-notch sound and the only regret is the superfluous, expensive inclusion of a brittle-voiced Rolando Villazón in the Merry Widow duet.
The album’s best is saved for first, and last – a pair of Vocalises by film writers Wojciech Kilar and Frédéric Chaslin, wordless songs where the voice soars free and the singer stamps her own emotions on the song. Irresistible.
Artists: Diana Damrau (soprano), Roayl Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Charles Abell
Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.