Rhapsody - Homage to Pauline Viardot
Franco-Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan celebrates the life and music of pioneering mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), daughter of the famous tenor Manuel Garcia (1775-1832), sister to the superstar soprano Maria Malibran and to Marcel Garcia Jr, baritone, teacher at the Paris Conservatoire and Royal Academy of Music and inventor of the laryngoscope.
Pauline worked as a celebrated professional singer whose voice was described by the poet Alfred de Musset as like "the taste of a wild fruit... Pauline possesses the secret of great artists: before expressing something, she feels it. She does not listen to her voice, but to her heart." She was also a professional pianist, frequently playing with her friend Clara Schumann, and composer of several operettas. Young artists from various creative fields sought her encouragement, inspiration and guidance.
The recital on this well-filled disc—full of contrasts—is an interesting selection of 18th and 19th century opera with the welcome addition of the Brahms Alto Rhapsody, which Pauline Viardot premièred. Varduhi Abrahamyan, with the song "Krunk" (The Crane), also pays a very special personal tribute to the fact that Pauline Viardot's vast repertoire even included folksongs from Armenia. This one, accompanied by the duduk, an ancient double reed instrument made of apricot wood, is based on an old melody collected by the Armeniam composer Komitas.
In the three Rossini excerpts, she makes the glorious voice of Marilyn Horne seem somehow old fashioned and there's more than a hint of Bartoli to be found there. And in a piece from Gluck's Orphée, Bartoli joins her in a cadenza collaboratively written by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns, the latter also featuring in two excerpts from Samson et Dalila.
The Alto Rhapsody is taken at a good speed; a full five minutes faster than the beautiful but rather funereal (1947) benchmark version by Kathleen Ferrier which, however, does have the lead on clarity of Goethe's words.
I know no more of Gounod's Sapho than most as it sank without trace after six performances, but this lovely dramatic aria is certainly worth rescuing.
The part of Ines in Meyerbeer's Le prophète was written for Pauline Viardot and she played it over 150 times so it's no surprise to find "donnez, donnez" on this disc. I'm sure the famously fastidious Meyerbeer would have approved.
Altogether, we have here a truly notable "Homage to Pauline Viardot" and anyone wanting to explore the life and work of this remarkable woman will want this disc.
Reviewer: Paul Foss