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Alla Breve

July 10, 1994|WALTER PRICE

SAMUEL BARBER: The Complete Songs. Cheryl Studer, soprano; Thomas Hampson, baritone; John Browning, piano; Emerson String Quartet. Deutsche Grammophon 435 862-2. These 47 songs include 10 from various archives unpublished until now. Barber, who died in 1981, was a conservative who cared little for changing fads. A baritone himself, he was one of the few of his time who knew how to write gratefully for the voice. Browning is the core in this major recording achievement, knowing Barber's oeuvre as few do, and he has two of the most sensitive singers around today as his partners. Studer's limpid soprano is ideal for such pieces as "A Slumber Song of the Madonna," "Sure on This Shining Night" and, especially, the often witty "Hermit Songs." Hampson, who seems bent on challenging Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the number of recordings to his credit, amazes with his use of a cushion of air to support the bottom of his silky baritone and exquisite piano head tones (never falsetto) at the top. "The Daisies" has great charm, "Sleep Now" a languid calm and "I Hear an Army" and "Depart" raw dramatic power. The enunciation of both singers is a model of its kind. Superlative notes by Browning.

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