Caccini, Handel, Mozart, Puccini and Gershwin arias
SHU-CHEEN YU (soprano) & ANTONY WALKER (conductor)
ABC Classics 461 679-2
reviewed by Neville Cohn
For those who attended, and fell under the spell of, The Peony Pavilion at last year’s Perth International Arts Festival, a new ABC Classics release on CD could well prove irresistible. Titled Lotus Moon, it’s a compilation of Chinese traditional and art songs and operatic selections with heavy emphasis on Puccini.
The characteristic timbre one associates with classical Chinese opera – high pitched with, for want of better words, a wailing and sometimes nasal quality – is much in evidence in the folk items sung by Shu-Cheen Yu. For ears, such as mine, very much geared to sound in the western tradition, Shu-Chee’s voice, with its idiosyncratic timbre and stratospherically high tessitura, makes for fascinating, almost mesmerising, listening as she sings the songs of her homeland.
Liner notes by Julian Yu and Lyle Chan are helpful – and there are English translations of all the Chinese songs as well as the Italian and German arias. I thoroughly recommend this collection of Chinese songs to anyone who has yet to sample the style and genre. They fall agreeably on the ear, especially Ren Guang’s The Fisherman’s Ballad, gently lulling and suggestive of the composer’s studies in France. And Alumuhan – a traditional song – sounds rather like a tango and, stylistically and melodically, would not seem amiss in a Spanish zarzuela.
The operatic arias are less uniformly satisfying. There is no doubting the seriousness of purpose brought to the performances, all accompanied by Sinfonia Australis conducted by Antony Wallace. At times, one felt the need for rather more opulent vocal tone. But I liked an account of Mozart’s “Ach, ich fuhl’s” from The Magic Flute, its mood of pathos convincingly evoked. There is some sense of strain in Handel’s “Oh! Had I Jubal’s Lyre” but in “Signore, ascolta” from Puccini’s Turandot, Shu-Chee Yu produces a broad, fuller sound and a sometimes rather tremulous line that sounds entirely appropriate.