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CD Feature/ Katherine Jenkins: "Premiere"

img  Tobias

When the BBC featured this CD on their website, the article was longer than some doctoral theses. Only a tiny chunk of that, however, was devoted to the actual review. The largest part consisted of a fiercely fought and fiery debate, whether or not Katherine Jenkins was a great singer or fake. Opponents criticised her apparent lack of intonational capacity (meaning: it all sounded the same), her generally limited vocal talent (“like a first year singing student”) and the deficits with regards to interpretation (“like some cheap parody). Most, though, seemed to focus on the huge marketing apparatus working behind the scenes, claiming that she was nothing but yet another spectacularly staged pop product. Listening to “Premiere” will show you that nothing could be more wrong.

If we may believe the rumour, the only thing Anna Netrebko said after Katherine snatched the “Album of the Year” award at the “Classical Brits” was: “Nice Boobs”. In fact it is Netrebko who has made a prototypical pop star entry on the scene, not this former teacher. In fact, hers is one of the least spectacular hit albums of the last few years and it highly likely that it is this hideous placidity (combined with humongous sales), which is really causing all the uproar. Producer Morgan Pochin has avoided both the traps and opportunities of employing a collossal orchestra, gigantic choirs and extreme dynamics. Everything is slightly held back here, which lends a wonderfully homogenous and powerfully detained aura to the pieces. As a listener, you have the constant feeling the music will explode any moment, but it never does. Neither does Jenkins. At times, her performance is so hushed, as to suggest she were unanware of anyone listening. And almost always can one sense a sad shade in her voice, a bronze tone to her otherwhise brightly shining soprano. It may take her away from the opera stages, where a certain degree of unnatural clarity is considered a gift, but it has landed her in the very hearts of listeners looking for a more “human” sound and for someone they can actually love, not merely admire. In many ways, her timbre is that of a Jazz singer, but even without these comparisons it is immediately recognisable, without reverting to overtly blowing you off your socks. Call her the “quiet soprano”, as she carefully feels her way through a collection of songs focussing heavily on loss and love. And yes, I did mean “songs” as in “pop”, for “Premiere”’s reworkings of popular tunes by Bach, Händel and Satie have an up-front appeal comparable to those of many tunes from the charts. “Bailero” uses floating synthesizer pads and delicate beats and electronics are regularly interwoven with the acoustic texture of the music, as is a plethora of accompanying instruments. Allusions to her Welsh origin are round every corner, including the official Rugby World Cup song. All in all, it’s a pretty varied bunch, but Jenkin’s voice and the subtle production hold things together nicely.

Katherine never really strikes out or screams her way towards a majestic finale, but then that is the whole point. Here is an artist who is perfectly aware of her capacities and not once extends beyong her reach. The result is neither revolutionary nor exciting in the breaking news-sense of the word. But it is very personal, intimate and, with all of its stylistic turns and twists, extremely different from the usual mix of a great opera arias. Calling for more obvious proof of her virtuoso talents would mean asking her to be someone else, which can hardly be desirable. In all of its unspectacular nature, this has turnded out to be a very promising debut indeed. And even if it were all conceived behind the desk of a marketing executive, it wouldn’t take a bit away from that.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Katherine Jenkins
Homepage: Universal Classics

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