Pure Diva

Philippe Ponthir
Forum Opéra (France)

A really very beautiful release from the Australian label, Melba. More than just a calling card, this recording is a genuine tribute by Cheryl Barker to her illustrious teacher, Dame Joan Hammond. I am not sure whether this name will still evoke very much on this side of the world; Hammond in her home country, however, is fêted like Nellie Melba or the keenly missed Dame Joan Sutherland. Hammond had a brilliant international career but, forced to retire prematurely following a heart attack, her later activities – mostly teaching – were confined pretty much to Australia. She influenced a plethora of opera singers, of whom Cheryl Barker counts as one of the best known. Hammond was a great singer with an impeccable technique and an extremely beautiful voice with that particularly Anglo-Saxon creamy timbre.
Cheryl Barker has cherished for quite some time this project particularly close to her heart. And one can easily hear a lot of heart in this recording. Once again Melba offers music lovers a lavish and quality product in attractive packaging and with exhaustive notes. This is an example to other labels who seem to be making false economies by cutting corners and ignoring the aesthetic appeal of their discs. This very point is a serious matter worth thinking about in the crisis affecting CD sales. Just as there are lovers of beautiful books, there are music lovers who will never be dissuaded from the pleasure of a meticulously presented physical recording. The orchestra led by Guillaume Tourniaire rises perfectly to the task both in terms of accompanying and supporting the soloist and also of creating the differing dramatic moods.
Barker is a beautiful singer, even if her voice is without doubt not naturally so large as that of her illustrious Maestra. If Hammond was characterised by an aristocratic sound, for her part Cheryl Barker possesses a rare emotional immediacy in her tone which makes her the ideal interpreter of Mimì, Rusalka, Liù or even Micaela. Not having the pyrotechnic abilities of the stratospheric Lucia, Amina or Elvira, it is remarkable that Barker – in a beautifully cohesive selection – manages not only to characterise each heroine in a matter of minutes and to keep the listener’s interest throughout the disc, but to be very moving. Musically accomplished, Barker has the vocal armoury of a particularly expressive artist..... One particularly appreciates the purely lyrical pages where the singer unfurls the natural qualities of her youthful prime.
The quality of this CD is such that Cheryl Barker tells us clearly who she is; thereby one gets to discover an extremely captivating personality.....Barker’s freshness, simplicity of utterance and well-sung performances are a lovely surprise and worthy of recommendation.