Cher Public

The long and winding road

Jamie Barton has one of the great voices in the world today, sumptuous, flexible, and capable of light and shade, her sizeable mezzo pours forth seamlessly. Her tremendous operatic potential has already found a firm footing. She has sung Adalgisa and Giovanna, Fricka and Jezibaba—all to acclaim. In a recent Opera News feature, she said that Eboli and Azucena are on the way (though not Amneris) and that she feels entirely at home singing Wagner. 

To a fan of vocal music unfamiliar with Barton, all of the above would be enough to pique interest but there is more! Barton is equally formidable in the song repertoire, an interest reflected in her rare double win at the 2013 Cardiff Singer of the World competition, where she won both the opera and lieder prizes. She reminds one of a time when recitals were more popular with audiences and many opera stars spent equal time on the recital stage.

In her debut solo album, All Who Wander, Barton surrounds Gustav Mahler’s staples of the song repertoire, Rückert Lieder, with the less familiar Gypsy Songs of Antonin Dvorák and select songs by Jean Sibelius. The most remarkable of the songs set to words of Friedrich Rückert is “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” one of the great summits of German Lieder.

In the accompanying booklet, Barton writes that this is the song with which she has lived the longest. This serene farewell to life is a mere 6-7 minutes long, but in the hands of great artists like Maureen Forrester or Jessye Norman, it achieves the effect of seemingly stopping time. Barton shows herself worthy of that notable company, fully capturing the song’s essential repose.

Barton finds a splendid partner in pianist Brian Zeger who conspires with her to create an exquisite atmosphere for the monumental song. His playing enriches every selection in this album. His years of experience working with singers show in his naturally supportive and responsive collaboration. His pianism has clarity and warmth, delicacy and power.

He phrases with flexibility without losing the shape of a melody. He highlights individual voices but always keeps the big picture in mind. Zeger arguably does his best work in the Dvorák selections, capturing the playful buoyancy of the gypsy songs, leading Barton as well as supporting her.

Zeger and Barton open with the Rückert Lieder and a delicate “Ich atmet’ einen lien Duft” which sets a reflective tone for the album. Possibly my favourite selection is the second track, “Liebst du um Schönheit” which Barton delivers with an outpouring of warmth that moves me every time I listen to it. “Matronly” is usually not flatteringly used to describe singers, however, in this song and many others, the word can be applied only glowingly to describe the tender embrace of Barton’s vocal art. Her rich voice and heartfelt delivery coax and comfort the listener.

“Um Mitternacht” allows her to exploit her pungent lower register while conquering the song’s finale with breadth of tone. As the track demonstrates, Barton’s voice at full cry is thrilling to behold but the majesty of her instrument never overwhelms the songs. Her ability to lighten her tone, especially in the tricky upper middle voice, notably allows her to sing with expressive freedom.

She rounds out the Mahler selections with three songs from his Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit. “Ich ging mit lust” comes too quickly after “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” with inadequate pause given between tracks, but the song continues the still mood which Barton delivers with poise. After an urgent “Errinerung” which is mined for all its dramatic potential, she tosses off “Scheiden und Meiden” with lusty delight. The rustic nature of the song transitions nicely into Dvorak’s folk-tinged Gypsy Songs.

The most famous of these songs is the fourth selection, the beloved “Songs my mother taught me” (with apologies to the Czech-literate, I use the songs’ English titles), which Barton sings with affecting melancholy. But rest of the songs deserve to be better known. I love the playful bite of the second song, “Ring out, my triangle”, the introspection of the third, “All about the woods are still”, and the abandon of the invitation to “Come and join the dance” in the fifth. In each selection, she displays sincere musicality, with detailed phrasing devoid of affectation.

Though Sibelius’s shimmering writing for the piano frequently evokes icy Nordic landscapes, the vocal writing is anything but cool. The vocal lines in these songs are the most operatic of the whole album and find Barton offering her most consistently full-voiced singing.

The selections, chosen from various sets, are remarkable for their large-scaled mood achieved in relatively short length (all but one are under three minutes in duration). “The girl returned from meeting her lover” has a surprisingly opulent setting but is also emotionally urgent. “Kiss’s hope” and “The March snow” bring introspection before “Was it a dream?” carries the album to a close with valedictory sweep.

Barton brings an intimate grandeur to the Sibelius songs, satisfyingly filling out the large vocals while retaining an immediacy in her delivery.

Though her voice and musicality would be enough to declare this album a thorough success, Barton’s attention to the text must not go unmentioned. Her German is very good and although I cannot speak to the quality of her Czech or Swedish, I can say that she is diligent with her enunciation.

All Who Wander is everything a song recital should be. Delivering both familiar and unfamiliar fare in beguiling interpretations, Barton and Zeger take the listener into the world of each song with deft musicality and emotional sincerity.

  • ines

    Thanks for the lovely review of a beautiful CD.
    As a fan of Sibelius songs , I just want to make a little precision;
    All of his songs in this disc are sung in the original swedish.
    Sibelius belonged to the swedish-speaking minority in Finland and has written only a few of his songs to finnish texts.

    • Thank you. One always learns something from parterrians. And La Cieca has already made the edit!

      • Thanks for the great review, as always. I just wanted to mention that Finnish is actually far more related to Hungarian than it is to the Scandinavian
        (North-Germanic) languages. I wasn’t aware of the Uralic languages of which Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian are the most prominent until I attended the first Baltic Sea Festival (created and run by maestro Salonnen) in August 2003. While seeing as many as three performances every day for a full week, I had one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life: Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ massive a cappella choral work “Forgotten Peoples.” 20 years in the making and lasting about two hours, it is broken into six sections consisting of 51 songs in a dead-or-dying Finno-Ugric language: “Livonian Heritage,” “Votic Wedding Songs,” “Izhorian Epic,” “Ingrian Evenings,” “Vespian Paths,” and “Karelian Destiny.” There’s a recording of the entire piece on ECM, which is well worth seeking out. Having a chance to meet Tormis (and get an autograph), I became curious about his other works and found him to be a rather prolific composer (over 500 choral songs!) and quickly realized how and why his Shamanistic “Curse Upon Iron” is his most-performed work outside of Estonia. “Litany to Thunder” is also quite insanely thrilling. He died in January at age 86.

      • ines

        I am happy that Barton loves these songs , that are usually sung mostly by Finnish and Swedish singers.
        And as Mattila once pointed out; When it comes to many songs by Runeberg ( a finnish poet) composed by Sibelius… they should be performed with a finnish accent… Something that swedish singers would not do…. Tom Krause and Camilla Nylund (swedish-speaking Finns) would be a reference here….nit-picking … Enough of languages…
        Lastly, how come Netrebko does not sell out ( in E Onegin ) at the Met? In Europe she sells out in minutes

        • It seems like nothing sells out at the Met these days. It’s a sad situation.

          • fantasia2000

            Except for one, at least that I’m aware of. The last performance of “Der Rosenkavalier”, which happens to be the Met Live in HD broadcast, is sold out so far. I’m not too sure why … everybody wants to be immortalized in Met HD broadcast, maybe? ;) I happen to be in NYC that weekend, and luckily I managed to secure 2 last orchestra seats all the way in the back that were reasonably cheaper.

            • lil_pirata

              The only matinee performance of Renee as the Marschallin as well as her last performance in this role. It will be an event.

            • fantasia2000

              Ah yes, I forgot about that. Thank you! It will also be Renee’s (supposedly) last staged performance ever.

            • Bill

              And even more important
              Elina Garanca’s reputedly last ever
              performance as Octavian as she is relinquishing the role and will be concentrating on somewhat heavier fare,
              Eboli, Santuzza, Dido, Delilah, Amneris and such.

            • fantasia2000

              Yes, very important. I’m soooo tempted to go to Munich to see her (repeated) La Favorita in July, but alas, they were all sold out.

              To stay somewhat on-topic, Elina is going to sing Ruckert-Lieder with Dudamel/LA Phil (sandwiched between Schubert’s Symphonies No. 5&6) on May 18-19, and also Das Knaben Wunderhorn with the same force (sandwiched again between 2 most famous Schubert’s Symphonies, Unfinished and Great) on May 20-21. :)

            • Cameron Kelsall

              Eric Owens confirmed that both Fleming and Garanca are retiring their roles while hosting the Idomeneo broadcast this past weekend. These performances are also rumored to be Fleming’s farewell to staged opera--at least, the traditional repertoire.

        • Eugene Onegin is maybe (IMO) her worst role? She’s expressed time and again how she doesn’t feel comfortable with this role. I saw her in 2013 and IMO it was a poor match for her temperament. The production is also very boring.

          • PCally

            I’m with Ivy here, if though I know many who feel differently. I’m not an unoquivicol fan, but it would be silly of me to deny how insanely charismatic she can be. Her Tatiana was the only time I’ve ever been bored by her, she was so miscast and while I admired what I thought was her sincere attempt to inhabit the role, the gulf was very apparent. Vocally I also think she waited a bit late to sing it. Lots of lovely stuff but a lot of very audible scaling back the sound imo and in the house I felt very underwhelmed.

            • I was really looking forward to her Tatiana and was disappointed. She sang well and was dramatically sincere but something wasn’t clicking. It was also the only time I felt that she and Kwiecen didn’t have chemistry which they had displayed many times before. Also agree that she waited too long for the role.