V2612. JANET BAKER, w.Raymond Leppard Cond. English Chamber Orch. & Harpsichord): Il Ballo delle ingrate, Nos. 7 & 9 (Monteverdi); La Lucrezia - O Numi eterni (Handel), Live Performance, 27 Oct., 1974; w.Giulini Cond. New Philharmonia Orch.: Les Nuits d'été (Berlioz), Live Performance, 13 Dec., 1970, Royal Festival Hall. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-931. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Although she had no reputation for diva behavior and her name was as plain as Polly Peachum’s, Janet Baker was the greatest English singer of the postwar era. Her predecessor Kathleen Ferrier is uniquely mourned and beloved, and Peter Pears was a great singer, but for beauty of voice, range of repertoire, and unrivaled musicianship, Baker deserves any praise one can lavish on her. Reviewing a set of various live broadcast performances, Raymond Beagle writes, ‘Most impressive is the Berlioz ‘Nuits d'été’, undergirded by the breadth and intensity of Giulini's baton. Baker's performance of ‘Le spectre de la rose’ is as close to sublime as any mortal comes. Of course, her impeccable musicianship is present, but the feeling that she is giving us everything as a human being is quite thrilling’.
Having only herself to compete with, here we get Baker with the same conductor but in better voice in 1970 and if anything expressing Berlioz’s masterpiece even more passionately. Besides her incomparable ‘Le spectre’, the next song, ‘Sur les lagunes’, is performed like a miniature opera scena, filled with the kind of artistry one can only marvel at. The mono sound is a bit dull compared with Baker’s classic studio recording with John Barbirolli (EMI), but the ear quickly adjusts. It’s a small price to pay for the added excitement Baker imparted before a live audience.
Handle’s tragic solo cantata ‘Lucrezia’ duplicates a studio recording, also with Raymond Leppard as conductor and harpsichordist, made for Decca around the same time as this live reading from 1974. The subject from antiquity is of the Roman noblewoman Lucretia, whose rape by the son of King Tarquin incited a rebellion that turned Rome from a monarchy to a republic. Lucretia’s suicide was legendarily a model of pathos and nobility. (Britten wrote the first of his chamber operas, THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA, in 1946 for Ferrier; it was later notably recorded by Baker.) Handel’s music in his Italian operatic style covers a wide range of emotions from tenderness to the rage of the final furioso.
On her studio recording Baker is tidier in thecoloratura passages but also more cautious. Here she strikes notes of despair and fury that are unmatchable, and the less accurate passagework is a minor drawback. The recorded sound is good broadcast stereo. The same concert featured 10 minutes from Monteverdi’s ballet, IL BALLO DELLE INGRATE. We get an orchestral movement and a soprano aria, ‘Ahi, troppo è duro’. I think purists will find the use of the English Chamber Orchestra anachronistic in both the Handel and Monteverdi, but purism seems irrelevant in the face of such great singing.
This is Vol. 4 in St. Laurent Studio’s Janet Baker series, although it is the first installment I’ve encountered. Despite her multiple versions of the Berlioz and the duplication of the Handel, this release is irresistible for anyone who prizes singing of the highest caliber.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
"You can’t expect anyone else to help you get through life, but if you have a relationship with God which gives you an absolute bedrock then you’re given a tremendous strength which no other human being could give you.
Everything that I learnt during my working days in order to set foot on a platform and open myself to other people, all that discovery through my job has made possible the last half of my life. Without that career and all the blessings of it, I don’t think I’d be able to cope with not being able to do it anymore, (a terrible bereavement in itself) or with the lessons of recent years. I feel so lucky to have had this gift in my life which has permeated everything that I am. I come to the end of my life feeling resting in a sort of gratitude that I’ve done what I think I was born to. I like to think I’ve done my best for my composers and librettists."
- Janet Baker
“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