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

An enterprising recital debut from this up-and-coming soprano. Emma Bell is quickly establishing a reputation in opera, concert and recital. Indeed, I am writing this a couple of days after her Prom appearance, much applauded, with The English Concert. In this well-conceived recital she earns our thanks for reviving a number of songs by Bruno Walter, who in the years before the First World War fancied himself as much as a composer as a conductor. His idiom is that of late-Romanticism and he shows, especially in settings of Heine and Eichendorff, that he can stand comparison as a songwriter with the more famous among his contemporaries. Particularly delightful are Des Kindes Schlaf and Elfe, the latter sung previously by Maria Ivogün and her pupil Schwarzkopf. Bell, singing in impeccable German, does them proud in her lightly floated readings. She also does well by four songs by Joseph Marx, once performed by many singers, now largely neglected. Here the most attractive piece is Traumgetrönt, where Bell finds the right lyrical impulse to make the most of its dream-filled text. All these pieces find an intelligent response to the words. Similarly in several of Strauss's best-loved settings, she is admirable in the more reflective pieces, among which the ineffably beautiful Traum durch die Dämmerung, arguably Strauss's most inspired Lied, receives a rightly inward interpretation.

But there is a serious Achilles Heel to Bell's approach, a tendency to use too much voice and in consequence allow some stridency into her tone in larger-scale, more dramatic pieces. The famed Schlechtes Wetter and some other songs would benefit from the old dictum that a little less would mean so much more (the same was true in her Baroque readings at the Prom). She could profit all-round by listening to, say, Elly Ameling, to learn how to get the proportions of her singing in better perspective. Andrew West is her most appealing and fleet partner. The recording is excellent.

04 October 2004