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Emma Bell - Songs by Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter and Joseph Marx -Classical

31 January 2005

Emma Bell (born 1971) is now a well-known figure in British musical life after winning the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 1998 and becoming a BBC New Generation Artist in 2002. She is at home in opera, oratorio and song: a note in the present booklet mentions a forthcoming recital of Handel arias for Linn Records.

This first CD concentrates on Lieder, from the frequently performed selection of some of the Richard Strauss items to the rarer examples of conductor Bruno Walter as a composer, and it is with the latter's three "Tragödie" settings that the programme begins, with Bell hitting the mark at once, singing with restraint. A gentle lyricism permeates her treatment of Strauss's "Freundliche Vision", and indeed her quiet singing throughout the disc is attractive, and well displayed in the clear recording. Also pleasing is the darker timbre she brings to Walter's "Die Lerche", a song in which she produces varying tone-colours to suit both the music and Eichendorff's words.

It is that willingness to colour the voice, and to reduce or swell the volume that brings much interest to a song recital. Little is more unsatisfactory than listening to a singer with one colour operating at the same level all the time. If one samples a few lines of one of Walter's "Tragödie" and then moves to, say, Joseph Marx's "Hat dich die Liebe berürhrt" one is immediately struck by the different shading in the tone. One may consider that Bell and West are over-emphatic in Marx's "Ein Drängen ist in meinem Herzen", but at least they are thinking about their interpretation.

The four songs of Strauss's "Mädchenblumen" also receive contrasting treatment, and I particularly liked "Kornblumen" and "Epheu", the latter treated to an exquisite top note in its last line: just one that Bell inserts into the programme in places, rather like the cherry atop the cake. She employs her full voice for the last group of Walter's songs; the final item, "Liebeslust", finding her at her most outgoing, with Andrew West augmenting her with his playing of the powerful accompaniment.

This release offers a worthwhile aural picture of Emma Bell's way with song. She has, in Andrew West, a pianist who is on the same interpretative level. The selection is especially welcome for the nine compositions of Bruno Walter. The booklet contains texts and translations.

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