Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade and Julian Reynolds
at Symphony Hall * * * *
Review by Richard Bratby
The prospect of a joint recital by two of the world's most celebrated vocalists prompts either delight or dismay.
Over-hyped star-vehicle recitals are one of the least appealing features of modern concert life - and stars don't come much bigger than Frederica von Stade and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, but within bars, the first item - Mozart's Via resti servitar - had swept any such apprehension away.
Vivacious without being flashy, the duet was delivered with an easy spontaneity that would colour the whole evening. The French songs and arias that followed had been chosen with a care and imagination that removed any suspicion of this being merely a celebrity showcase.
Te Kanawa and von Stade alternated in songs by Berlioz and Poulenc, Te Kanawa providing the evening's high point in Poulenc's languorous Hotel. Her voice took on the timbre of a saxophone as she floated her lines smokily over Julian Reynolds' delicately-tinted accompaniment.
Von Stade's mezzo has held up slightly better, and her glorious arcs of tone gave Ambroise Thomas' Connais-tu le pays the authentic operatic thrill. Her focused intonation, and wholehearted engagement with the words, paid dividends in the livelier numbers.
Yet Te Kanawa and Von Stade duet like a dream. Their two voices still blend superbly, as we heard in Canteloube's Bailero and, later, in a ravishing closing sequence of duets. That the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann was weightless, fragrant and utterly seductive came as no surprise - but this pair even managed to make Karl Jenkins' In Paradisum sound like music.
Full marks to Symphony Hall for providing texts and translations. No marks at all for dropping the house lights so low that it was impossible to read them...SUPL: