Carreras goes pop with less-than-classic lyrics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 1996, 12:00am

IN Jose Carreras' latest album he has unashamedly targeted that new audience for classical vocal music discovered after The Three Tenors' World Cup soccer all-time opera hits performance.

This CD, titled Passion, puts words to famous bits of music like Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 8, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and Borodin's Prince Igor.

If a soft-focus CD is possible then this is it. The Angel Orchestra of London, conducted in turn by Michael Reed, John Cameron and David Firman, does not go for high drama, but rather for low contrast. With Carreras' rich, tender tones it all makes for very easy listening.

However, although the ostensible purpose was to present a way of singing along to 'some of the most beautiful musical pieces of all time', this recording - like that of The Three Tenors - is far better where the pieces are a little less known, or, as with Ave Maria, where the words were already there.

Some of the works are so used and abused already that, it can be argued, this popular treatment matched with Carreras' voice vastly improves them.

Much better, after all to think of the largo movement of Dvorak's Symphony No 9 as a song called If tomorrow comes than as the background to the Hovis commercial. Or of the over-performed Albinoni's Adagio as an Italian song about lost love.

But Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, cliched though it might be, is made more so by Jeremy Sams' lyrics to the song Love is a Melody. That shiver factor of the original needs the clarinet, not the human voice - even it is one of the world's best - to work its magic.

Perhaps inevitably, the English lyrics, written alternately by Jeremy Sams and Don Black, and accompanying half of the 14 songs, seem rather trite.

'When your arms reach out for mine, Then our world will begin to shine,' or 'Our boat is in the bay; It's time to sail away' are typical examples of the genre.

Perhaps a John Donne sonnet, or a Lovelace love poem might have fitted as well, and created something more lastingly magical.

En Aranjuez con tu amor, adapted from Joaquin Rodrigo's Aranjuez Concerto, should be the one that makes the top 20, if any of them do, while Dreaming of You, based on the Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, comes a close second.

Brave New World, sung to the finale of Dvorak's New World Symphony, sounds like a surprising mix between Oliver Twist and Italian opera - something that Mr Bumble should have sung as he dragged Oliver along the streets outside the work house perhaps - and as such works rather well, while the Kazakhstani love poem which ends this collection is a good example of how such cross-fertilisation of musical types can create something refreshing.

The desire, expressed in the putonghua lyrics, for the singer to turn into a lamb so he might be with a pretty shepherdess all the time, might be rather contrary to the more macho Spanish tradition, and certainly unrealistic in a land of mutton eaters, but Carreras sings charmingly and plaintively.

This CD is less passion than a slightly synthetic form of romance. But on the second time round I was singing along: no doubt on the 10th I will be wondering whether there was ever any other way to hear that Aranjuez Concerto or the New World Symphony.

It will take a little longer to forgive the clarinet concerto.

Jose Carreras, Passion (Erato Disques)