Songs of life, love and death

Wigmore Hall Live reaches 25 releases...with two new CDs in October: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Gerald Finley, both with Julius Drake

To bring its catalogue to a landmark total of 25 CDs, Wigmore Hall Live has chosen recitals by two of the most gifted and sensitive singers to come from North America/Canada in recent decades: mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and bass-baritone Gerald Finley, who are both accompanied in these live recordings by Julius Drake. The CDs are released at the end of October.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, originally from Northern California, died in 2006 at the age of just 52. She brought an almost paradoxical combination of serenity and intensity to her performances, with her graceful presence, mellow voice and her subtle, but penetrating illumination of both text and music.

Her legacy of studio recordings is suprisingly small, making this recital – originally broadcast by the BBC in 1999 and centred on the German song cycle for the female voice, Frauenliebe und -leben – even more of a treasure. It complements last year’s Wigmore Hall Live release of songs by Mahler, Handel and Peter Lieberson (the singer’s husband), recorded in 1998.

Reviewing the concert in 1999, Andrew Clements in The Guardian had the following to say about the mezzo’s performance: “...With Julius Drake as the ever attentive pianist, she devoted her recital to Brahms and Schumann, and it was spell-binding. There is no artifice, no affectation and most of all no self-regarding ego about Hunt Lieberson; she is on the platform to communicate. It helps, of course, that she possesses a voice of such haunting beauty and that her musicality is so instinctive ... Each number of Frauenliebe und -leben ran through a whole spectrum of colour and emotional flux. The way in which Ich kann's nicht fassen grew from breathless wonder to untrammelled ecstasy was a microcosm of the emotional journey that the whole cycle charts. Magical.”

Gerald Finley, born in Canada, though based since his student days in the UK, has just received a 2008 Gramophone Award for a recital of songs by Barber and in October stars at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. (He also took the title role – physicist Robert Oppenheimer, ‘the father of the atomic bomb’ – at the opera’s 2005 world premiere in San Francisco.)

This imaginatively conceived recital, recorded in October 2007, brings together works by Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky – the quintessentially Russian Songs and Dances of Death – and Ned Rorem, born in Indiana in 1923; it also includes encores by Charles Ives, Einojuhani Rautavaara and Charles Wolseley. Hilary Finch, reviewing for The Times, had the following to say: “[In the Musorgsky] the unbroken line of pity and compassion that ran through the perfectly integrated registers of his voice (and in perfect Russian) led the heart with compelling intensity from the cradle to the field of battle ... Finley’s finest hour was his magisterial and daring performance of Ned Rorem’s prose settings of Walt Whitman’s harrowing War Scenes.” Keith McDonnell, writing for website Music OMH judged that: “Gerald Finley is one of the few baritones before the public today with whom it's virtually impossible to find fault. [His] recital at the Wigmore Hall was exemplary in every way ... The Canadian baritone ... is at the peak of his considerable powers ... Whether on the operatic stage, or on the concert platform, he never fails to give his all. In the last few years his voice has taken on a gorgeous chestnut-brown quality, which he uses with faultless musicianship in everything he sings. Very few non-Slavic baritones have the right sound for plumbing the emotional depths that are omnipresent in Russian song, but Finley is one of them.

Releases scheduled for 2009 on Wigmore Hall Live include recitals by:

· French soprano Véronique Gens with pianist Jeff Cohen

· Polish mezzo-soprano Ewa Podles with pianist Garrick Ohlsson (a programme that again features Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death)

· Russian-born pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja

· Wigmore habitué, Hungarian pianist András Schiff, playing at the Hall’s 1988 Haydn Festival

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Julius Drake

Schumann Frauenliebe und –leben,
Four Lieder Op. 98a
Brahms 8 songs op 57

Release date: 27th October 2008


Gerald Finley
Julius Drake

Tchaikovsky 7 Songs
Musorgsky Songs and Dances of Death
Rorem War Scenes

Release date: 27th October 2008