The ravishing Australian soprano Cheryl Barker has an important career in many major opera houses – English National Opera, Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera and The Royal Opera Covent Garden among them – and concert halls. She is widely celebrated for her riveting performances. Pure Diva: is her very personal tribute to her teacher, the great Dame Joan Hammond, a disc, Barker says, “that feels as if it’s been a long time coming”.
The orchestral scenes are high drama from the first note to the last reverberation. Cheryl’s glorious lyric soprano rides the wave of Guillaume Tourniaire’s orchestral texture in grand operatic scenes, arias and songs made famous by Hammond. They include Tatyana’s Letter Scene, Dido's Lament, Desdemona’s Willow Song, and other arias by Verdi, Dvořák, Korngold, and Offenbach. Cheryl’s visceral portrayals of these operatic heroines convey the full emotional depth of these multi-dimensional characters in extremis.
The tributes with piano accompaniment (by Timothy Young) provide a contrast to the preceding drama, encore pieces beloved of Joan Hammond, the biggest selling recording artist during the war. Her recording of The Green Hills o’ Somerset became a best seller and Cheryl includes it as a homage here. The delightful rarity Shadows is a song written for Hammond by the Australian composer Ronald Settle.
Illuminating CD notes are by the late and great vocal commentator John Steane who was an insightful witness to Dame Joan Hammond (1912-96) and all the great singers of her era and those that followed.
Cheryl Barker’s relationship with Melba Recordings stretches back almost to the label’s beginning: Puccini=Passions (MR301085) was her acclaimed 2003 collection of arias with Richard Bonynge conducting Orchestra Victoria.
“The excitement and sense of urgency of young Tatyana are well caught ad projected, with the fullness of Barker's voice brought into play...Despite the occasional unsteadiness and a certain lack of tonal freshness at time, I find much to like in the singing, and the Queensland orchestra and the pianist work well with the soloist.” International Record Review, January 2012