On track: Album captures special occasion for Susan Graham

By WILLIAM DART

The lady is from Texas, is frank in her desire to sing Kiss Me Kate and travels the world with her French poodle, Libby, who writes a regular column on her mistress' webpage.

If this sounds almost too wacky for comfort, Susan Graham also happens to be one of today's top mezzo-sopranos.

On stage she has played Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, as well as creating the role of Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking.

And then there are also Graham's many superb CDs - songs by Ned Rorem, Reynaldo Hahn and French operetta arias, with recordings of Charles Ives and Purcell (Dido and Aeneas with Ian Bostridge) in the pipeline.

Her latest gives us the mezzo's April Carnegie Hall debut, with pianist Malcolm Martineau, catching the exhilaration of a special occasion.

There's new material here for Graham enthusiasts, such as Brahms' Zigeunerlieder which open the evening. These are beautifully characterised from the capricious czardas of Brauner Bursche to Kommt dir manchmal in den Sinn which has the same effortless, creamy vocal line as a later Mahler encore.

Coughers do their best to sabotage the first of Berg's Seven Early Songs, but Graham, Martineau (and Berg) survive. This is lush, heart-on-sleeve stuff - after all, Wozzeck wouldn't bare his tortured soul for another 15 years.

The recital continues with the French school, through to a bracket of Poulenc's Apollinaire settings where it is stylish fun for all, especially in the scampish Before the Cinema.

The humour becomes broader in Messager's J'ai deux amants in which Graham uses voice and (one gathers from reviews) feather boa to underline the sauciness of it all; during the habanera of C'est ca la vie, by turns coy and lusty, the audience is simply unable to suppress its laughter.

Four encores range from Reynaldo Hahn's elegant A Chloris (definitely the first track for would-be punters to sample) to Sexy Lady, a cabaret turn, commissioned from Ben Moore. This song takes an amusing stand on Mezzo Liberation with liberal quotes from Voi che sapete, and a snatch of Vissi d'Arte pulled down to tessitura, semitone by semitone.

A civilised, stylish venture with a remarkably generous playing time of 74 minutes.

* Susan Graham at Carnegie Hall (Erato 2564 60293)

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