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Three contrasting mezzo-sopranos throw their hats into the ring this month with very different musical offerings. First up we have Clare McCaldin, an enterprising British mezzo who specialises in new work. Her album Notes from the Asylum explores female madness, both fictional and factual. It’s a generously filled disc, starting with Bedlam songs by Purcell and Harriet Abrams, proceeding though Brahms’ Ophelia-Lieder and some Wolf to Ned Rorem’s Ariel, set to poems by Sylvia Plath, finishing with a short opera in six songs, Vivienne, by Stephen McNeff. McCaldin has a straightforward voice, not especially distinctive, but true and clear, and she generally sings within her means. Only the Rorem, with its whoops and leaps, leads to some edgy sound. The Brahms songs are perhaps her finest vocal moment. Vivienne is a tour de force and she relishes the excellent words by Andy Rashleigh: it tells the story of Vivienne Haigh-Wood, married to T.S. Eliot and incarcerated in an asylum where she died in 1947, out of sight and mind. The vocal range is relatively contained, but the emotional one is enormous, taking McCaldin from simple song to complex rhythms, including some tongue-twisting parlando. Libby Burgess accompanies her well and Catriona Scott’s clarinet adds colour. This is an interesting and thoughtful release from a small label: credit to all involved.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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