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Leontyne Price Rediscovered Review

Live. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

By the time you reach the encores, Price can do anything she wants; we're all in the...

Andrew McGregor 2002

She was one of the great American sopranos, yet Leontyne Price had to wait to make her solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall on 28th February 1965. She was far from unknown in the hall: she'd actually appeared there in concert more than eighteen times since the mid-50s, and by the mid-60s she was a busy and very popular singer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but in some ways this was a return to her roots, the kind of recital programme Price would have sung before operatic fame overtook her.

Just one thing had changed - the audience. Carnegie Hall was packed out with fans, and by the time we get to the encores they're howling with enthusiasm; it sounds as though they've been imported from the local sports stadium. Which could be very off-putting, if this weren't such a fine recital, and if the recording hadn't captured the atmosphere so well - there's such a huge sense of occasion.

Price's Handel arias are performed straight, no chaser - current singers with a sense of period style would approve. The Brahms Zigeunerlieder benefit from the freshness of the voice, still lithe and flexible, silvery with a hint of cream...almost a junior Jessye Norman, but with turn-on-a-sixpence handling. Then for me the high point of the recital: the four Poulenc melodies are deliciously handled, the Barber songs are breathtakingly beautiful without ever falling over the line into sentimentality, and they segue into the Lee Hoiby songs as though this was the way they were originally written.

The noise levels increase significantly for the four spirituals, Price in fiery form and the audience responding to her simple sincerity. By the time you reach the encores, Price can do anything she wants; we're all in the palm of her hand, and she's enjoying herself. It's a long, tiring recital, but there are few signs of frailty in this magnificent voice, and David Garvey's piano playing is only occasionally too matter-of-fact for the occasion.

But why Leontyne Price Re-discovered? Well, only the Brahms songs have been released on disc before, but when you've heard the rest of this recital, it beggars belief that RCA sat on it for thirty-seven years. At least they've relented now, and if there has been electronic intervention or editing, you're never made aware of it. Instead you get a top-price ticket to a concert I bet is still talked about by those who were there. Go on, join them - all recitals should be this rewarding.

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