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Cherry Ripe

Opera (UK)
Peter Reed

This is the third album of the Richard Bonynge Edition of rare (here often a euphemism for forgotten) arias from the B-roads and culs-de-sac of opera from roughly last-gasp late Baroque through to bel canto. The titles of the first two collections are Believe in Love and Power of Love . The title of this one, Cherry Ripe, is slightly misleading, implying a surfeit of English airs in all their wholesome, rosy-cheeked bonniness—as well as (if memory serves) conjuring up Joyce Grenfell’s warbly massacring of the song in one of her lethal W.I. sendups. Interestingly, Charles Horn, its composer, is so off the map that he doesn’t figure in any of my reference books; nor does James Hook, who wrote the sweet ‘Lass of Richmond Hill’. Other composers in this collection, such as Generali, Zingarelli, Bianchi and Dalayrac, still just about have a toe-hold in the footnotes of music history. Perhaps the CD should have been called something like ‘Lost in Love’.

Bonynge has programmed this CD so that the charming and parochial English airs open out into more solidly European operatic fare. The longest aria runs to just over five minutes, with most of the 21 tracks coming in at around the three-minute mark, and with many of them dwelling, however briefly, on the various (usually poignant) permutations of amor, the disc does get a bit samey, however plangent. Among my favourites are the lovely ‘Hope Told a Flatt’ring Tale’ by Paisiello, in a harp and flute arrangement of great charm. An elegantly crafted, galant aria from J.C. Bach’s Cefalo e Procri makes its mark, as do a haunting but very theatrical ‘Ingemisco’ from the Gran Messa da Requiem by Mayr, and two superb arias by Cimarosa.

The main reason for acquiring this CD, though is for the artistry of Deborah Riedel, the Australian soprano who died in January of this year (her obituary is in the March 2009 issue). This CD was recorded in July 2007, but there is no sign of flagging powers. She was highly praised in 2004 for her Sieglinde at the State Opera of South Australia; yet, while there is the occasional blast of Wagnerian strength, Riedel tailors her voice perfectly to this smaller-scale repertoire, with a gleaming, focused edge, impressive breath control and plenty of athletic and accurate decorations (try the second Cimarosa aria). Her generous interpretative gifts endow
each aria with a particular flavour—no mean feat, considering that they inhabit, stylistically and emotionally, more or less similar territory.

Another great plus are Richard Bonynge’s liner notes, which, with great economy and clarity, fold all these lesser forgotten composers into the broader context of European music—for example Stephen Storace’s important connection with Mozart—and which are also full of anecdotal, sometimes poignant detail. Why, for instance, did Francesco Bianchi (represented here by an aria from his 1794 opera Ines de Castro), a very successful figure all over Europe, commit suicide in 1810 in Hammersmith? Bonynge certainly knows his way through this repertoire, and he wears his scholarship lightly. He draws out some stylishly-played accompaniments from his Arcadia Lane Orchestra, with plenty of caressing woodwind solos.