Pure Diva

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International (UK)

Joan Hammond (1912–1996) was born in New Zealand but the family moved to Sydney when she was only six months old. … As a recording artist she was very popular and her recording of O mio babbino caro earned her a Gold Record award for selling one million copies. The Song to the Moon from Rusalka was another bestseller. With her centenary coming up next year Melba’s and Cheryl Barker’s tribute to her is well timed
… (Cheryl Barker) sings with exquisite tone and expressive phrasing. Her pianissimo singing and her ability to colour the voice make this a very satisfying recital…
The Otello excerpts are marvellously sung, beautifully restrained most of the time and the isolated fortissimo outbreak a magnificent climax, followed by an Ave Maria so soft and inward – a real prayer. …
The two favourite arias from Rusalka and Die tote Stadt are really beautifully executed. … . Maybe the most moving of all the items is Antonia’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, challenging even Ileana Cotrubas on the recently reissued Covent Garden Hoffmann on DVD. Dido’s Lament also confirms the impression that Cheryl Barker is at her best in elegiac situations.
Then it’s encore time and the orchestra takes a rest. Timothy Young sits at the piano – and very good he is. His arpeggio accompaniments to Shadows are stylish and precise. One doesn’t expect an encore to be quite as gloomy – almost desperate – as this but sung with such heartrending intensity it makes a deep impression. Home Sweet Home was not only a Joan Hammond encore but was also sung by the first great Australian singer: Nellie Melba. Her recording from 1905 is a classic but I have to admit that I have never been very fond of her tone. I do prefer Cheryl Barker greatly. She also gives us lovely versions of The Green Hills of Somerset and The Last Rose of Summer. Reaching the end of the recital I feel I have had an enjoyable 80-minute-traversal of some of Joan Hammond’s most famous arias and songs ...  
The Queensland Symphony play well and the recording is first class. Besides full texts and translations there is a personal tribute to Joan Hammond by her lifelong friend Peter Burch and an appreciation of Dame Joan by the late lamented John Steane. Full marks for presentation!