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Early Music, Vocal Music Media Review Print

Kathryn Mueller's Intimate and Lovely Début Album

January 19, 2020 - Easthampton, MA:

love & loss; Songs and arias of Purcell, Bach and Handel: Kathryn Mueller, soprano, Jennifer Streeter, harpsichord & organ, Brent Wissick, Baroque 'cello & viola da gamba, Stephanie Vial, Baroque 'cello, & Nicolas DiEugenio, Baroque violin. Self-produced, © 2019, TT: 70:49, $15.00 + $5.00 S&H, from the artist https://www.kathrynmueller.com/.

This is a nice selection of works by three big names of the Baroque era ‒ in chronological order: Henry Purcell (1659-95), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) ‒ because it includes some well-known works along with less frequently heard ones, such as Handel's mini cantata Quel fior che all'alba ride (The flower that laughs at dawn), HMW 154, that focus on the dramas of the CD's title's emotions. The arias are a mix of stand-alone ones, singles or from sets, and ones excerpted from cantatas and operas. There is also a great deal of variety among them, in both the works themselves and their executions.

The Purcell set contains six, four stand-alones and two extracted from operas, one each from Pausanius, and King Arthur (the ever-popular "Fairest Isle"). The Bach set is comprised of four, opening with "Komm in mein Herzenhaus," from Ein feste Berg is unser Gott, S.80, not frequently heard alone, and closing with the more frequently heard and delightful "Phoebus eilt" from Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, S.202, with the especially lovely "Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze" from Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, S.61, preceding it. The Handel set contains seven, all except the first ("Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle," from Neun Deutsche Arien, HMV 205) in Italian, from his time in Italy. "Ah! Crudele" is from Dietro l'orme fugaci, HWV 105, also known as Armida abbandonata; "Intendimi ben mio" is from Dolce mio ben," HMV 108 (but likely actually not by Handel); "Per te lasci la luce" is from Da quel giorno fatale, HMV 99; "Voglio darti a mille dolci baci" is from Quando sperasti, o core, HMW 153; and "Il suol che preme" is from O numi eterni!, HMW 145; all are cantatas.

Mueller's voice has been described by several as "crystalline," likely because of its crystal clarity, but it's also pristine, like the water in a mountain stream, and her diction is excellent, flowing like that stream, making the expression of the texts flow naturally. Her ornamentations do the same for the music itself in a fine historically informed performance. The instrumentalists are also all excellent and the balance is perfect, creating a team of equals. The excellence of the artistry of both Mueller and her partners becomes increasingly evident on repeated listenings. I appreciated them on some works in a later listening (I've had at least eight) that had not particularly impressed me on the first. I found the Purcell set the overall most enjoyable every time, however.

My quibbles with the release have nothing to do with the quality of the performance, but rather with overlooked details in the production itself: too many things are missing. There are no timings, either total or for individual tracks. Although it is listed on the album's cover, the organ is not listed as an instrument played in the capsule bio of Streeter. There are virtually no program notes explaining the choices or their arrangement. As a result, the whole gives the impression that it was a rushed job, and its overall quality is consequently compromised. The choice to swap the jewel case for a cardboard folder, on the other hand, was a good one, and the illustrations are attractive, modern but discrete. The brevity and succinctness of her bio is better that the frequently offered overly detailed ones. The singer's performance itself says volumes.

Updated 1/21/20: Texts and translations in printable format are here: kathrynmueller.com/love-loss.html.