These three vocal collections are all excellent recordings. Each of the singers is capable of great vocal dexterity and there are moments on each CD that are quite breathtaking. However, there are some distinctions that need to be made.
CONTRALTO [Sara Mingardo]
This is a re-issue following on from the success of her extraordinary Arie, Madrigali & Cantate earlier this year. Mingardo again proves what a unique talent she is. The rich lustre of her contralto voice easily wraps round the music of Pergolesi, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and Handel, highlighting both the simple directness of the baroque style as well as its potential for startling ornamentation. The richness of her technique is one thing but this is combined with one of the most emotionally potent voices singing today. Mingardo brings a rare dimensionality to her performances imbuing them with a type of transparent feeling that is difficult to capture in recorded music. Arie, Madrigali & Cantate is a more cohesive disc but Contralto is a perfect follow-up for those left aching for more after the other album.
HANDEL [Renee Fleming]
On any other day I would probably have liked this disc more. Fleming is an outstanding singer capable of extraordinary agility. Her voice is rich and sophisticated and she easily carries this collection of Handel arias. But that is where, for me, the problem lies. Compared with Mingardo, Fleming sounds completely devoid of emotional colour. Her performance is too easy and seems flawed by its very effortlessness. I enjoyed listening to this disc but I don’t think it is one that I would return to very often.
SEMPRE LIBERA [Anna Netrebko]
This is a collection of very different work by a very different singer and I was surprised and delighted. In my opinion Netrebko’s earlier disc was hyped way beyond its value and I expected more of the same. However, this CD is strong, cohesive and thoughtfully sung. Netrebko has a dynamic, immensely powerful old-fashioned voice that is perfect for this repertoire of Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti.