Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Unusual and loving tribute to Elly Ameling

Elly Ameling lights up everything she sings. It's not simply the purity of her voice, which is exceptionally sweet and beautiful. She communicates much more: warmth of personality, intelligence, charm and, above all, the sense that she loves singing and wants to share her enthusiasm. Although she's one of the greatest singers, she has never sold out to the commercial circus. Even though her voice is ideally suited to Mozart, Handel, Strauss, she chose not to do the big opera circuit and chase the spoilt diva market that sometimes follows. She's maintained her integrity and dignity, and that personal, intimate touch that's so much part of her charm.

That's why I treasure this CD set, Elly Ameling 75 Jaar : Live concertopnamen 1957-1991, Nederlandse Omroep, a 5 CD set available on application from amazon (though for some reason not amazon.uk) It's also available I think at the Concertgebouw and in shops in Holland. You might have to track it down, but I'm glad I did because it's a good alternative to the other box set on the market, "The Artistry of Elly Ameling" released by Philips. The Philips set has Bach, Handel, Haydn, Vivaldi, Hugo Wolf and for fun, Cole Porter. Some of these tracks Elly's fans will already know from the original issues.

This Live Concertoprnamen set is far more distinctive because it's a carefully chosen selection of live recordings from concert performances 1957-1991, most of which are not commercially available. It's rewarding to listen to, because it's more personal, more intimate. A beautiful portrait of a much loved singer and personality!

CD1 comprises opera performances – Bizet and Gounod from a 1966 performance conducted by Bernard Haitink, arias from Idomeneo, Cosi and Le Nozze di Figaro and a lesser known delight, a recitative and aria from Louis-Aimé Maillart's Les Dragons de Villars.

On CD 2 we hear a very fresh performance of Strauss's Vier Letzte Lieder (conducted by Sawallisch, 1983), a selection of Strauss with Rudolf Jansen or Dalton Baldwin at the piano, and Alban Berg's Der Wein (cond Leinsdorf). This latter doesn't get the high profile it's due and some singers overdo it, but Ameling is fine and clear.

More Rudolf Jansen on the next CD, songs by Duparc, Debussy and Ravel. The highlight though is Fauré's La bonne chausson, flowing beautifully. Ed Spanjaard conducts a few songs too, which I liked since I mainly know his work in new music. Jansen and Ameling have been partners for years, so it's good to hear more of them together later in the set – arias from Tosti and Rossini, Mussorgsky songs and Stravinsky's Pastorale.

Still more surprises to come – Elly Ameling sings Luigi Dallapiccola! Sex Carmina Alcaei are well suited to Ameling's gentle spirit. She sings Carlos Guastavino, too, the Argentine composer (d 2000) enjoying a new vogue in recent years, thanks to singers like Carole Farley who has raised the profile of South American song in the US and Europe. Here's Ameling singing La rosa y el source in 1981, a little less "Spanish" but lovely. On this same disc, Ameling sings Constantin Huyghens (1596-1687) and a Victorian song in English – she certainly has range!

Louis Andriessen is Holland's greatest living composer, but his father, brother and sister were/are also important figures in Dutch music circles. This is an opportunity to hear Hendrik Andriessen's Magna res est amor and Fiat Domine (cond Haitink) and a devotional work for voice and organ, Miroir de Peine. Father and son write completely different music, but both have strong convictions. Albert de Klerk accompanies Ameling on Miroir de Peine. I don't know where the organ is but it's very low toned and resonant, so Ameling's voice floats lyrically above. She sounds very young and angelic. Then you see it's made in 1958. It's like being transported back in time to a simpler world.

Since we don't hear much of Dutch composers. it's interesting to hear a CD in this set devoted to Bertus van Lier (1906-72) and Robert Heppener (b 1925). The former is represented by an opera, The Song of Songs, where Ameling sings Shulamite. However, the real discovery here is Heppener's Cantico delle Creature di San Francisco d'Assisi (1952). This is very good indeed, in fact the highlight of the whole set. If you like Hans Werner Henze's Italian works, you'll love this. It was written in 1952, before Henze settled in Italy, so there's no connection, though it stands comparison, which is praise indeed. It's about ten minutes, the voice accompanied by string orchestra, particularly lustrous writing where the high strings shine and the low strings add richness. Ameling's in her prime on this 1977 recording, so beautiful that the set's worth getting for this alone.

This set is a labour of love, compiled by those who know Elly Ameling and understand what makes her so good. A lot of work must have gone into tracking down these pieces, many of them radio broadcasts, and getting permissions. There are also wonderful photos, like Ameling with her dogs, and one where she grins, holding a T shirt that says "Happiness is Singing". That sums up the spirit of this set, and why I enjoy it so much. It's sincere, personal and very warm hearted. This is a lovely tribute, so track it down if you can.

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