Album Reviews

Susan Graham at Carnegie Hall

(Warner Classics) UK release date: 27 October 2003

Susan Graham at Carnegie Hall Susan Graham is one of the biggest draws on the operatic circuit at the moment, and has lent her rich mezzo soprano voice to song recitals by out of the way composers such as Ned Rorem and Reynaldo Hahn. This concert, recorded at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 14 April this year, finds her tackling mainly German and French repertoire.

There’s no time for easing in, as Graham and accompanist Malcolm Martineau opt straight for Brahms’s eight Zigeuner lieder (Gipsy Songs). These bring out a more Hungarian element in Brahms’s usual Romantic style, and Graham seems keen to emphasise this in a lively performance, often rolling her ‘R’s deliberately and serene at the end of the penultimate song. However I found the piano sound a bit dry, the overall picture clouded as a result.

Even more challenging to bring off are Debussy’s Proses Lyriques, written just as his style was beginning to take hold on the public stage at the close of the 19th century. The mysterious beginning of the opening song De Reve is perfectly weighted, and Martineau resists the temptation to overemphasise Debussy’s thick accompanying chords. It’s a demanding listen, and repeat hearings are recommended to get below the surface.

Berg’s Seven Early Songs follow, a world apart stylistically but sharing a deep rooted Wagner influence, and by the end of this the programme is in need of some light relief. It arrives in the shape of Poulenc’s stunningly brief Apollinaire settings, thrown away joyously by Graham with equal enjoyment and humour from the crowd. Then it’s encore time, with two surprisingly cheeky numbers from Andre Messager, the French operetta composer.

There’s arumbustuous aria from Moises Simons and a tender Hahn song, announced by Graham as one of her favourites and sung as such. More Debussy and a gorgeous Mahler lied follow, before Ben Moore’s Sexy Lady brings the house down. Written for Susan Graham, and intentionally cribbing from the likes of Mozart and Strauss, it tells of a mezzo’s woes in having to sing boyish roles whilst trying to remain sexy. The Carnegie audience lap it up, and it serves as a fitting end to a programme that demonstrates just how versatile Susan Graham can be. No wonder she’s so popular.

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