Sara Macliver, soprano. Orchestra of the Antipodes, Brett Weymark conductor. West Australian Symphony Orchestra, conductor Benjamin Northey; other artists
Classical, Early Music
ABC Classics 476 4362
Reviewed by , August 1st, 2014

This ABD Classics portrait cd of Sara Macliver opens with Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim” (from Samson). The difficult coloratura is clear and the duet between voice and Leanne Sullivan’s fine trumpet playing is exciting. The close collaboration with Brett Weymark (conductor) and the Orchestra of the Antipodes has resulted in splendid phrasing and a satisfying, joyous performance. Macliver is a renowned exponent of Baroque and Classical repertoire, and has always recorded works suited to her light flexible voice with its naturally small vibrato.

The next two pieces, Arne’s “The glitt’ring Sun” (Cantat V: The Morning) and Vivaldi’s arrangement of Giacomelli’s “Sposa son disperezzata” from Il Bajazet (also recorded in 2011 with the same personnel), reveal some warmer richer colours now evident in her voice, which is still sounding youthful and free of tension throughout her range. Her pure tones were often described previously as “angelic”- perhaps now we can use “seraphic” (apparently seraphs hold the highest rank in the Christian angelic hierarchy!). She says: ”Bringing joy is one of the things that motivates me” and with this 2011 release,  she can be assured that she will bring great enjoyment to many.

Soprano Sara Macliver

Soprano Sara Macliver

Of the 18 tracks, 9 were recorded in 2010 with the above musicians, while the rest were selected from past ABC Classics recordings, many with Anthony Walker conducting the same orchestra. “Pie Jesu” (Fauré’s Requiem) and Haydn’s “Al tuo sen fortunato” from L’anima del filosofo are the earliest from 2001 and 2002. They are wonderful performances and so meltingly beautiful is her “Pie Jesu” (Faure’s Requiem), that I was deeply moved. She also transported me to  heavenly places with her renditions of Ravel’s “Chanson des Cueilleuses de lentisques” (one of the Cinq melodies populaires grecques) recorded with WA Symphony under Benjamin Northey, and her “Baїlèro” from Songs of the Auvergne of Canteloube. There is also a lovely “Laudate Dominum” from Mozart’s Vespers Solennes de confessore with Cantillation, and some well-known arias of Bach and Purcell. Throughout, her phrasing is superb. The cd booklet focuses on her career and an interview with her and there are unfortunately no translations or information about the works themselves.

One wonders why on earth did she include the final 2 tracks? For me they are aberrations on this fine disc. Both are from 2010 – Crossing the Bar by Australian, Calvin Bowman b. 1972, the only song with piano accompaniment on the entire disc, and Both Sides Now (by Joni Mitchell) recorded with Weymark and Sinfonia Australis. Both are of limited musical merit compared to the rest of the selections, and I felt she unwisely stepped into territory for which her seraphic tone is unsuited – it sounds just too pure, as though life has not left its marks. Nor is her diction clear enough and without texts available, I struggled to understand the Bowman. Well might she be inclined to venture into new territory but these choices do not show her at her best. Her “Somewhere” from Bernstein’s West Side Story is also an unexpected track, but it works, being such a wonderful song and capable of carrying the innocent purity of her voice.

So while these last 2 tracks puzzled me, I thought this was an excellent showcase disc of a first rate singer.

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