This two-CD set introduced me to a voice and a singer of genuine importance, a real vocal presence, the Australian Nance Grant. Her career began in the late 1950s, and started to flourish in the 1960s in concert and recital work. She did not wish to leave her family behind, and thus declined attempts to lure her into an international career, singing instead principally in Australia. Important conductors championed her—Edward Downes in particular—and she sang many leading roles, but achieved no international stature and no recordings on any international labels. Some of her work was broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Company, and other performances were recorded in the opera house either backstage or by what we affectionately call “pirates,” to whom we are grateful for much operatic pleasure.
Grant was, on the basis of these two discs, a true lyric-spinto soprano, probably not an Isolde or Brünnhilde, but a wonderful Sieglinde and Elisabeth. At its best her voice had a real luster and gleam... One disc consists of songs (the shorter disc, at 56:42); the second focuses on operatic and orchestral repertoire (and is longer, at 78:07). ....In most cases the sonic quality is surprisingly high given the range of sources...the operatic/orchestral disc... is music for the most part that responds to (or even requires) grandeur, generosity of tone and of phrasing, and this Grant provides amply. She nails high notes, her voice is solid and even from top to bottom, and her joy in singing comes through in every measure. Her Ariadne is magnificent—this is regal singing that soars through Strauss’s vocal demands with ease. Edward Downes’s conducting in the Ariadne, Tannhäuser, and Fidelio scenes is very strong, as is Leif Segerstam in Sieglinde’s two monologs. The Wesendonck Lieder are sung in the standard Mottl orchestration—except for “Träume,” which was orchestrated by Wagner. And even in 1981, after almost 30 years of singing, Grant provides very smooth, soaring vocalism. Most of the other orchestral and operatic work is from the 1970s, though the Idomeneo scenes date from 1982. Those two are stunning, with Grant mastering Mozart’s fiendish demands in Elettra’s music. Maria Stuarda ... provides its pleasures, and the rest of the orchestral disc is a real treasure.
There are very helpful biographical notes about Grant and her career...The five songs of Richard Hageman (1881–1966, a Dutch composer who worked in America for much of his career as a conductor and composer) are the highlight of the Lied disc, if for no other reason than their rarity and their very high quality. Charity (set to a poem of Emily Dickinson) and two songs that set Rabindranath Tagore texts (At the Well and Do Not Go, My Love) are really memorable...
Central to Melba’s mission is honouring the Australian musical heritage, and making the world aware of that heritage, and this disc certainly accomplishes that successfully.