World-renowned four-time Grammy Award-winning soprano superstar Renée Fleming performs at the 2018 A Capitol Fourth at the U.S. Capitol, West Lawn on July 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts Inc.)
Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Renée Fleming: Voice of Nature, The Anthropocene (Decca)

Beauty released by the singer’s larynx is met by plodding fingers on a monochrome keyboard

Renée Fleming: ★★★★

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: ★★☆☆☆

Good to hear that America’s prime diva is not going gentle into that good night. Past 60 and no longer taking operatic roles, she sings out full and flamboyant in this set of nature-themed songs that came together during her daily walks in the Covid lockdown. Everything you’d expect from a Fleming recital is here — the effortless highs, the velvety lows, the flawless intonation, the jumbled syllables in several tongues.

Her choice of songs is, to say the least, eclectic. A smoochy opening track called “Evening” by Kevin Puts could be mistaken in a blind hearing for something 1930ish by Barber or Copland. Nico Muhly’s “Endless Space” is a chip off the old Britten. The most compelling of her living composers is Caroline Shaw, whose “Aurora Borealis” evokes exactly what you’d expect from the title — flashes and sparks in the northern sky, too high and unearthly for other voices ever to reach. It’s an instant classic.

The rest of the recital is made up of French songs by Fauré, Hahn and Liszt and German ones by the Norwegian Edvard Grieg, who never writes louder than lovely. The pianist in all 16 tracks is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and another in Montreal, altogether too busy a man to spare much time for piano practise.

Yannick, whom Renée thanks “for his gifts as an artist, colleague and friend”, is a pianist of no discernible merit except the maintenance of steady tempo. His playing lacks subtlety or surprise. Worse, it lacks colour to the point of mortal pallor. Every shade of beauty released by the singer’s larynx is met by plodding fingers on a monochrome keyboard. Some conductors — Barenboim, Pappano, Levine, Previn — are natural partners in a song recital, a skill acquired in teenaged rehearsal contact with singers. Yannick, fine orchestral leader that he is, is not on this evidence much use as a piano partner. It’s one of the many jobs he can afford to give up.

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