Regular readers of this site will probably, by now, be familiar with the name of soprano Dominique Labelle. She has performed as a frequent soloist with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) and was featured this past April on the latest PBO recording on their own label (Philharmonic Baroque Productions) of excerpts from a concert performance of George Frideric Handel’s HWV 9 Teseo. However, thanks to her work with Voices of Music (an early music group that, like Philharmonia Baroque, is based in the San Francisco Bay Area), she has also established a significant YouTube presence, one highlight of which is a complete video recording of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1736 setting of the “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” hymn. Labelle sang this at a Voice of Music concert in 2012 with mezzo Meg Bragle, and the video document was uploaded “with all deliberate speed” after the concert.
As a result of these many experiences, I have come to associate Labelle with the early music repertoire. Thus, I was both surprised and curious to discover that, this past March, Bridge Records released Moments Of Love, featuring Labelle performing art songs by Camille Saint-Saëns, Reynaldo Hahn, Maurice Ravel, Benjamin Britten, and Yehudi Wyner. The “main attraction” of this recording is The Second Madrigal: Voices of Women, which Wyner composed for Labelle in 1999, scoring settings of eight songs for soprano and eleven instruments. Wyner subsequently prepared a version for soprano and piano. This is the version included on this CD with Wyner serving as Labelle’s accompanist (as he does for selections by the other four composers).
I am thus pleased to report that Labelle is as comfortable with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as she is with music composed before 1750. Wyner’s composition may be described as an “international perspective” of feminism. All texts are in English, regardless of the nationality of the author; and his rhetoric lends itself to clear diction, meaning that the listener need not necessarily keep his/her nose buried in the text book. Wyner shares this trait with Britten, which is just as well, since Bridge apparently could not obtain the rights to print W. H. Auden’s texts for the four Cabaret Songs that conclude the recording.
Labelle is also very much at home with all three of the French composers, each with his own stylistic approaches to love poetry. Still, there was something amusing about the fact that, in this context of “moments of love,” Labelle and Wyner decided to include a Saint-Saëns song setting a poem that Jean Lahor wrote entitled “Danse macabre.” Saint-Saëns would subsequently rework this as a composition for solo violin, rather than voice; so this particular track provides a rather intriguing example of “origins listening.”