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RECORDINGS & EVENTS A special eight-page section for readers in the US and Canada
JS Bach Six Solo Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012 Rachel Mercer vc Pipistrelle M b PIP1403 (140’ • DDD)
Recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites are abundant and varied, performed with attention to historical practices or conceived as a series of romantic flights. On her new recording, Rachel Mercer doesn’t impose doctrinaire impulses on the Suites but explores a range of expressive and rhythmic nuances in Bach’s iconic music. Her playing is absorbing and sensitive, full of insightful phrasing, reflective subtlety and, when suggested, joie de vivre.
Given the fact that Mercer is performing the Suites on the 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius cello (on loan from the Canadian Council Musical Instrument Bank), it might be tempting to listen with ears poised exclusively for tonal splendour. The Strad, indeed, is a resplendent instrument, rich throughout its range, with more than a hint of tonal bronze. But Mercer consistently uses the cello’s strengths to compelling musical effect, finding fresh ways to shape lines and lift the plethora of magisterial notes off of the page. The Strad’s superior qualities quickly play second, well, cello to Bach’s inspirations, especially when Mercer focuses on the moments of brooding and sublime lyricism, as in the sarabandes. The cellist stretches notes judiciously and breathes with the arc of phrases.
The Suites are divided on the two discs along odd‑ and even‑numbered lines. The order doesn’t matter: what’s most significant is the organic and urgent artistry Mercer brings to the music. As she savours the transcendent unfolding of material, Mercer draws the listener deeply into Bach’s singular galaxy. Donald Rosenberg
Boyer Symphony No 1. Silver Fanfare. Festivities. Three Olympians. Celebration Overture London Philharmonic Orchestra / Peter Boyer Naxos American Classics B 8 559769 (55’ • DDD)
talks to... Lawrence Brownlee The American tenor on his first CD of solo arias with orchestra
Why have you focused solely on Rossini? Rossini seemed appropriate – that’s mostly what I sing. But I wanted to include arias that aren’t part of the mainstream. Having performed many of these on stage or in concert, I knew they were great works.
Which aria will surprise listeners the most? ‘Terra amica’ from Zelmira is very rarely performed – the structure is wonderful, it needs a virtuosic approach to sing, and the singer must be really engaged.
Are you a natural bel canto singer? I had wanted to sing Puccini and Verdi, but I had a wise teacher who said that wasn’t where my voice was and presented me with ‘Ecco ridente’ from Barber of Seville. I’ve always had a high, flexible voice, which works in bel canto.
Which roles are you most drawn to? I’m naturally a silly person so the comic roles
Peter Boyer’s love affair with American orchestras continues with his second Naxos recording, dedicated to celebratory works composed for five American orchestras over a period of 15 years. Boyer, who claims more than 300 performances by more than 100 orchestras, writes in a fluent, powerful style that fuses conservative American currents with Hollywood‑ish size and populist sentiment.
The disc’s three overtures, commissioned by the Pacific Symphony for its 25th anniversary season, the Eastern Music Festival for its 50th and the Henry Mancini come fairly easily to me but I find I’m more challenged in the tragic roles – King James in La donna del lago, for example. It’s about building the arc of a character and making that character believable.
Is all Rossini the same? There’s a similarity in his writing, but for me it’s about bringing out the colours and trying different things based on the words. Thankfully I speak Italian so I’m able to understand the weight of the words and the double entendres, which inform what I’m singing. Yes, Rossini has to be technically sound, the high notes have to be spot on, but it’s the words that express the emotions.
Institute for its inaugural season in 1997 before moving a decade later from Los Angeles to Miami, are similar enough in tone and attitude that one could be mistaken for another. Three Olympians for string orchestra, however, commissioned by the Conductors Institute at Bard College for performance by 30 conductors in the summer of 2000, strikes more personal notes and demonstrates the composer’s orchestration gifts in a tour de force that evokes Apollo, Aphrodite and, in a brilliant finale, Ares.
Boyer describes the disc’s nominal headliner, his ambitious Symphony No 1, as referencing the first symphonies of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Commissioned by the Pasadena Symphony for its 2012‑13 season and dedicated with the gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE AUGUST 2014 I