OP1484. RADAMISTO (Handel), Live Performance, 1984, w.Roger Norrington Cond. English Chamber Orchestra; Janet Baker, Malcolm King, Della Jones, Martyn Hill, Patrizia Kwella, etc.; Janet Baker, w.Paul Hamburger (Pf.): 8 Lieder (Schönberg); Janet Baker, w.Solti Cond. Chicago S.O.: Sea Pictures (Elgar), Live Performance, 3 May, 1984. (Czech Republic) 3-Ponto 1054. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 8717202250547
“The performance of RADAMISTO is notable for an array of vocal talent headed by Janet Baker. Every name is familiar and admired. The ECO was a vibrant presence in the Handel operatic and oratorio market at this time and Norrington at the helm ensures that period practices are helpfully integrated into the fabric of a modern instrument performance – recitatives for instance, once the bane of some 1960s and 70s performances, move fluidly and intelligently, highly responsive to textual meaning and dramatic implications.
Martyn Hill’s youthful, eager and sometimes suave voice makes listening to his Tiridate a pleasure and he brings the same qualities of intimacy and textual awareness to bear as he does in his recitals of English Song….Zenobia is taken by Della Jones whose fiery impersonation and telling chest voice bring a whiff of gunpowder to the proceedings. Malcolm King proves a fine, evenly sung and technically impressive Farasmane….
Baker enters with an especially imposing ‘Cara sposa, amato bene’. Her Act II aria ‘Ombra cara di mia sposa’ is a kind of microcosm of Handel’s melodic self-borrowing and prefiguring. She tosses off one of Handel’s characteristic ‘ingrate’ arias – in this case Act II’s ‘Vanne, sorella ingrata’ - with fearless aplomb, managing the divisions with equal control. And of course she brings moving depth and directness to the great Act III Scene VII aria ‘Qual nave smarrita’.
Baker was long associated with Handelian performance but her Schönberg is another matter. The Schönberg songs all occupy a late Romantic hinterland and were written within a decade. Baker and Hamburger find Brahmsian warmth in ERWARTUNG and excavate light wit alternating with more florid expression in the splendid ‘Waldsonne'. Baker saves her imperious best for ‘Am Wegrand’.
The third piece in this three CD set is Elgar’s SEA PICTURES. Apart from the Barbirolli, a Handley-conducted Baker version has emerged from much later, 1984, which is the same year that Baker sang it in Chicago with Solti. There are some marvellous things here. Solti’s conducting is terrifically exciting. Baker’s voice has depended since the famous recording and there are, invariably, changes of emphasis within a broadly similar frame. For example, she elucidates the text of ‘Where Corals Lie’ with more considered emphasis than before. Solti goes like the clappers in ‘The Swimmer’ and the end is really grand.”
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb-International.com, July, 2007
“It might have taken Baker some time to enjoy the fruits of her own career, but for everyone else she has long been regarded as one of the greatest-ever British singers. Emerging in the mid-1950s she was seen as the natural heir to the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier who had died aged just 41 in 1953. By the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Baker was a leading figure in the Baroque revival, singing Handel, Purcell and Monteverdi. In the ‘60s she became closely associated with Benjamin Britten and went on to have huge success on the opera and recital stages in both the UK and America.“
- Nicholas Wroe, THE GUARDIAN, 13 July, 2012
“While mezzo-soprano Janet Baker was best known for her performances of British music, especially that of her compatriot Benjamin Britten, she was also a fine performer of art song, sacred music, and Classical and pre-Classical opera. Her repertoire, as well as her background, frequently overlapped that of her great predecessor, Kathleen Ferrier; and though her career was mostly centered in England, and she always had a special place in the regard of English audiences, her fame was international.
In 1956, she won the second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier Competition; that year also saw her operatic debut as Roza in Smetana's THE SECRET, in an Oxford University Opera Club performance. In 1962, she first sang with the English Opera Group, as Polly in Benjamin Britten's famous production of THE BEGGAR'S OPERA at Aldeburgh. She later credited the leading spirits of that group, Britten and tenor Peter Pears, as giving the ensemble and its singers the highest possible standards, as well as raising the reputation of British singers internationally. In 1966, she made her Covent Garden début as Hermia in Britten's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and her Glyndebourne début as Purcell's Dido. In 1971, Britten wrote the role of Kate Julian for Baker in his opera OWEN WINGRAVE, written for BBC television.
As her operatic career progressed, Baker focused on pre-Classical and Classical works such as Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, Handel's GIULIO CESARE, the title role of Gluck's ALCESTE, Dido in Purcell's DIDO AND AENEAS, Ottavia in Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA, and Dorabella in Mozart's COSI FAN TUTTE. However, she also performed Romantic and twentieth century roles such as Dido in Berlioz's LES TROYENS A CARTHAGE; Donizetti's MARIA STUARDA; Charlotte in Massenet's WERTHER; and Octavian in Richard Strauss' DER ROSENKAVALIER. Much of her recital repertoire was drawn from the standard works of Fauré, Schumann, Schubert, Duparc, Haydn, and Mahler, and the British masters such as Purcell and Elgar; however, she also drew from the works of lesser-known composers, particularly from the pre-classical period, taking special pleasure in bringing their works to public attention. In 1982, she gave her farewell performances as Orfeo in London and at Glyndebourne.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“Don’t confuse your God-given talent with your self. Talent is something you’re entrusted with: respect it. And don’t believe your own publicity!”
- Janet Baker in interview with Rupert Christiansen, THE TELEGRAPH, 5 Oct., 2011