Before her career took flight overseas, Australian soprano Cheryl Barker studied with Dame Joan Hammond at the Victorian College of the Arts. Her second recording on the Melba label, Pure Diva, is a very personal tribute to her revered teacher and one that feels a long time coming.
Accompanied by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Guillaume Tourniaire, the program includes some of Hammond’s signature arias such as Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin and the Willow Song from Verdi’s Otello. Along with Barker’s favourite, Dvorak’s Song to the Moon from Rusalka, Purcell’s Dido’s Lament and Marietta’s Lied by Korngold, they were recorded in Brisbane. Barker also sings four songs that were a regular part of Hammond’s concert repertoire, including the Australian composer Ronald Settle’s ‘Shadows’, the traditional Irish air ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, Henry Bishop’s ‘Home Sweet Home’ and Eric Coates’ ‘The Green Hills of Somerset’. These are ably accompanied by pianist Timothy Young, and demonstrate the soprano’s sensitivity to text.
She sings with beautiful light and shade, and part of the pleasure of this recital disc is the varied and engaging mixture of repertoire. Barker turned 50 during the recording yet has retained her vocal luster after more than a quarter-century of singing…Guillaume Tourniaire’s conducting of the QSO is a fine compliment to Barker’s rendition. Sound production in two-channel stereo by Phil Rowlands and Alex Stinson is excellent with none of the artificial ‘ambience’ that one finds on many vocal recordings these days. Voice and orchestra are well balanced. The disc is tastefully presented, and includes not only full texts but also a fascinating essay about Joan Hammond by the late-lamented John Steane.