Regards sur l’Infini: Reactions

Sam and I have been overwhelmed by the response to Regards sur l’Infini, our debut disc as a duo, the project that kept us both moving forward through the hardest months of 2020. We’ve heard from many friends, and critics (see below), and critics who are now friends because they sought us out to talk about what we made, that the album has helped others bear the uncertainty of the current moment, too, and has provided beauty and inspiration. We couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic reception for our unusual and personal program of songs.

Here is a summary of the press response to the disc: reviews, radio programs, blogs, interviews. The album also made several best-of-2020 lists: Parool, Diskotabel, and Basia Jaworski all chose it as one of their top picks of the year.

 

Reviews

 

The Guardian (Erica Jeal’s Classical Album of the Week): “Glowing, intriguing French chamber music … Katharine Dain and Sam Armstrong have used lockdown to produce a memorable, effortlessly polished album. … An extraordinarily polished and thought-through disc. At its centre is a glowing performance of Messiaen’s 1937 song cycle Poèmes pour Mi, Dain’s voice crystalline yet powerful when required, Armstrong’s piano effortlessly propulsive.”

The Times (Geoff Brown): “You could try gazing into infinity with Katharine Dain, an American soprano with scorching top notes, based in the Netherlands, and the incisive British pianist Sam Armstrong. As a virus album, Regards sur l’infini is impressively elegant and thoughtful, featuring cunningly chosen French song settings presented in palindrome form. … Penetrating artistry … perfect in every way.” (pdf)READ MORE

Concertgebouw Orchestra debut on four days’ notice

I was honored to step in this week as soprano soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the world’s greatest. A colleague had fallen ill just before the planned premiere of a piece by Bram Kortekaas. I was contacted on Sunday afternoon: could I learn the fourteen-minute score immediately? Would the piece be a good fit? Was my command of Dutch language good enough? I had worked once before with Antony Hermus, the wonderful conductor of this all-Dutch program, but the orchestra didn’t know me, and I know perfectly well what a risk it is for management to make a call like this at the last minute.

I looked through the score: some high Cs and Ds, some lowish notes, some quick tempi and big intervallic leaps, some lyrical passages, lots and lots and lots of Dutch. I called my friend Manoj, who promised to help with the text. Manageable. I took a deep breath and responded: Yes, I can do it.

The next few days were a blur.READ MORE

“merciless beauty”

Our album is out!! Regards sur l’Infini was officially born on November 27th, 2020. Sam and I performed a small CD release concert in the gorgeous concert hall in Nijmegen, the same space where we recorded, that night, and we are overwhelmed by the positive response to the disc so far.

The Guardian chose Regards sur l’Infini as their classical pick of the week: “a memorable, effortlessly polished album.”

MusicWeb International has given us a sublime review and one of their coveted “Recommended” labels.

Beautifully recorded, exquisitely performed. … Katharine Dain is perfection itself. Her tone is light but not insubstantial, flexible, expressive and colourful, with a natural vibrato that you can listen to forever. Sam Armstrong’s accompaniment is sensitive and equally expressively communicative, an ideal mirror to Dain’s voice. … A superbly curated programme of French music. … This is the kind of recording that reminds us that there is not only beauty in melancholy, but also a wealth of inspiration.

—Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International, 25 November 2020

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Mahler, Berg, and Schubert with Grammy-winning Ludwig

Most of my concerts this spring, summer, and fall were cancelled. But not this one, which went off last week without a hitch, and thank goodness, because it was a complete pleasure from start to finish. Scroll down to listen to our Mahler and Schubert.

Ludwig is a Dutch chamber orchestra that almost exclusively plays without conductor. (A notable exception is whenever they work with Barbara Hannigan, who sings and conducts; their 2018 album Crazy Girl won a Grammy.) I’ve sung with them a few times before, but this project felt extra-special. It was my first time singing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a piece on my wish list for the longest time; it was in TivoliVredenburg, a concert hall in Utrecht that feels like home, for an actual (distanced) audience; and it was one of only a few live performances I’ve gotten to do lately, and perhaps the last for a while. The program also included three of Alban Berg’s luscious Seven Early Songs and a ghostly, stunning arrangement of Schubert’s Nacht und Träume.

But back to the Mahler, which felt almost unbearably poignant under the circumstances.READ MORE

Regards sur l’Infini: Back Story

It’s been a rocky few months for the performing arts, which makes it all the more strange and wonderful to announce my own news: Sam Armstrong and I are making an album.

Sam and I been close friends and collaborators for a long time, but we’ve never recorded together. Now, finally, we’re planning a disc of French songs, titled “Regards sur l’Infini” after a gorgeous early song by Dutilleux. The program is a compact, symmetrical meditation on restlessness and longing, including two complete cycles (Messiaen Poèmes pour Mi, Debussy Proses lyriques) and songs by Claire Delbos, Dutilleux, and Saariaho. We will record in the second week of August in Nijmegen’s stunning Concertgebouw de Vereeniging. Frerik de Jong will be at the helm, and the disc will be released on 7 Mountain Records in November of 2020.

But wait! How did this project evade the jaws of the pandemic?

It didn’t. “Regards sur l’Infini” will be a direct result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Like most performers, I’ve been virtually unemployed since mid-March; although some work is flickering back to life, the industry is still in major trouble. But meanwhile, I’ve been quarantining with a pianist. We’ve been making music together at home all along—at first just to cope with the uncertainty and loss, and later with a defined goal. I’m so glad that the album will serve as a permanent record of this work: a document of deep thought and assimilation and trust, a personal silver lining to a global catastrophe.

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Wagner & van Veldhuizen with the NSO

I’m so grateful to have been involved in the 2020 Nederlands Studenten Orkest tour of a concert program fittingly titled “Extase,” which closed Sunday night to massive fervor in the Grote Zaal of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. The orchestra (made up of all university students, approximate ages 18-26, led by Manoj Kamps) worked for four weeks, I for three, with an intensive rehearsal period followed by 13 concerts in 15 days. It was exhausting, it was massively stimulating, and it was incredibly fun. It was my first time singing Wagner, the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; the kids of the orchestra made that a safer, more exploratory, more joyful experience than it might have been in another context. (I’m definitely a lyric soprano, not a dramatic or Wagnerian voice, but with this group, and this conductor, I didn’t have to worry about balance or Fach or long-term implications: I could just focus on making the most sublime, rapturous music I could, with everyone in full support.Judge for yourself below, where I’ve posted the recording, if you’d like.) And we built an exciting new piece from scratch: Rick van Veldhuizen’s unde imber et ignes, which I loved discovering and singing. Keep your eyes on his name, everyone—Rick is a star.

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The Guardian thinks I’m “worth discovering!”

My album of Clara Schumann and Rhian Samuel songs (with bass-baritone Paul Carey Jones and pianist Jocelyn Freeman) got a short mention in the Guardian. It’s a tiny review, but I’ll take it, especially as it allowed me to see my name in the Guardian’s instantly-recognizable typeface for the first time, which was maybe more of a thrill than the words themselves.

“There’s more by Samuel on the album Song Lied Cân (Ty Cerdd). This small Welsh label, doing quietly impressive work, has paired her songs with works by Clara Schumann, performed by Katharine Dain (soprano), Paul Carey Jones (baritone) and Jocelyn Freeman (piano). All worth discovering.” —Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, 19 January 2020

Boccherini and Mendelssohn in Brussels

In a very last-minute change, I will be replacing the Spanish soprano Nuria Rial tonight in a concert presented by Bozar Brussels with the Auryn Quartet and bassist James Munro. The repertoire is Boccherini’s lovely Stabat Mater for soprano and strings, as well as music by Bach and Mendelssohn. I wish Nuria a speedy recovery and am grateful to my new colleagues for their generosity and beautiful playing in our rehearsal today.

On the early trip down from Rotterdam this morning, I was also treated to a stunning winterscape from the train window. Perk!

great press for Don Giovanni

I’ve been hugely enjoying singing Donna Anna with the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Kenneth Montgomery, a semi-staged production that is touring the Netherlands and Belgium in October. With a dream cast and a group of players that take as much interest in the storytelling as the singers, I’m finding new colors and possibilities in the piece in every performance. The press has been very positive.

“Donna Anna … was in handen van Katharine Dain, een heel fraai optreden. Haar twee grote aria’s ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ en ‘Crudele Non mi dir… bell’idol mio’ waren van grote klasse; verrassend, met een paar extra coloraturen.” (“Donna Anna was sung by Katharine Dain, in a very fine performance. Her two major arias ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ and ‘Crudele … Non mi dir’ were first-class, surprising with extra coloratura.”) –Place de l’Opera

“Bij de dames overtuigde vooral de sopraan Katharine Dain als een lyrische en beheerste Donna Anna, het enige adellijke slachtoffer van Don Giovanni.” (“Of the women, the soprano Katharine Dain was especially convincing as a lyrical and controlled Donna Anna, Don Giovanni’s only victim of the nobility.”) –OpusKlassiek

“Bij de zangers zijn de uitblinkers … de sopraan Katharine Dain als Donna Anna, die haar krachten spaart voor de
schitterende aria Non mi dir…” (“Outstanding among the singers … soprano Katharine Dain as Donna Anna, who kept her strength for the beautiful aria ‘Non mi dir…'”) —Het Parool

“Du côté des femmes, l’américaine Katharine Dain domine avec beaucoup d’aisance les aspérités de Donna Anna, et impose un phrasé des plus expressifs.” (“Among the women, Katharine Dain gracefully smoothed Donna Anna’s rough edges with most expressive phrasing.”) —Opera Online

“Donna Anna, de jonge vrouw die zich niet laat pakken, krijgt het vuur in de keel van sopraan Katharine Dain.” (“Donna Anna, the young woman who doesn’t let herself be caught, blazes with fire in the throat of soprano Katharine Dain.”) –Volkskrant

“magnifiek … kippenvel” (“magnificent … goosebumps”) –Trouw

“Sopraan Katharine Dain bracht een mooie kordate Donna Anna…” (“Soprano Katharine Dain was a beautifully resolute Donna Anna…”) –Opera Gazet

several lovely reviews, plus the Choc de Classica!

I’ve been slow to post reviews this spring, but I’ve had particularly kind words about several recent performances, and I’m delighted to announce that Damask‘s debut album, O schöne Nacht, has received a prestigious award: the Choc de Classica.

Here is an excerpt of the glowing review of Damask’s disc (translated from the French): “Brahms’ writing, which weaves voices together so naturally that each seems born of the others, is a perfect fit for the spirit of Damask Quartet, an international vocal ensemble founded in 2014 in the Netherlands. Katharine Dain’s agile, round soprano, the voluptuous and vibrant mezzo-soprano of Marine Fribourg, Guy Cutting’s flexible and lustrous tenor voice, and the deep warmth of baritone Drew Santini are all portals to the composer’s shimmering sound-world. From pianist Flore Merlin’s first arpeggios, Brahms’s Vier Quartette Op. 92 envelop us in the warmth of the night, its romantic possibilities and its sensuality.” The review will be in the June 2019 issue of Classica magazine. We are so pleased that our hard and careful work has been consistently rewarded with great press since the CD was released in the winter; receiving such an award feels like a real milestone.

In April, I jumped in for an ill colleague in songs of Zemlinsky and Berg in Austria’s Osterfestival. It was an utterly beautiful experience—the meeting of musicians, repertoire, location, and concentrated atmosphere was inspiring, and I couldn’t believe that it was all put together on such short notice. The Kronen Zeitung agreed (translated from the German): “Alban Berg’s ‘Seven Early Songs’ [were] sung by soprano Katharine Dain, who made these strange melodies seem completely natural with her vocal coloring and soulful dynamics. In Zemlinsky’s ‘Six Songs after Maeterlinck,’ she and the musicians meshed the simplicity of the vocal line with sensual instrumental sound.”

And in May, I sang my first Brahms Requiem. The Boston Musical Intelligencer wrote a nice piece on the concert, including the following: “Brahms surely was thinking of his late mother while composing the fifth movement, Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sorrow), a rare expression of tender consolation set for solo soprano with the chorus largely in an accompanimental role. The soloist’s very first phrase is a stern test of the singer’s breath control, a long ascending and descending melody that is entirely exposed over a silky cushion of muted strings. Katharine Dain was appropriately seraphic, seemingly beyond the tiresome bodily necessity of breathing, and the strings were equally ravishing. As with the earlier baritone solo, the interplay of soloist, chorus, and orchestra was handled sensitively, with exemplary balances and unanimity of expression. Dain had an especially radiant moment ascending to a high A at “[I] have found great comfort,” and the ending was sweetly maternal (“I will comfort you, as one whom his mother comforts”), capped by a celestial high pianissimo chord in the wind instruments.”

Berg and Zemlinsky at the Osterfestival

I’m jumping in for an ill colleague at Austria’s Osterfestival in the heart of the Alps. The program is Berg’s luscious Sieben frühe Lieder and Zemlinsky’s little-known and absolutely gorgeous Maeterlinck Lieder, performed in an arrangement for chamber orchestra by Reinbert de Leeuw. Reinbert (the founder and conductor of Asko|Schönberg, the Netherlands’ most storied new-music band) also conducts the performance, which features players of the Belgian ensemble Het Collectief. I wish my colleague a speedy recovery; my adrenaline is high as I dive into this gorgeous repertoire that evokes the world of Klimt and Art Nouveau. (It was almost exactly four years ago that I jumped in for a recital in the Concertgebouw’s Kleine Zaal in similar repertoire of Marx, Korngold, and Strauss; read the glowing review of that performance here.)

O schöne Nacht is out!

At last, the release of Damask’s album of vocal quartets by Brahms and his contemporaries has arrived! The disc is available directly from us or from various online distributors and is now also downloadable on iTunes; other releases will follow. We have had several nice reviews already: “a perfectly executed, imaginative recital” (OpusKlassiek); “a remarkable fusion of timbres and palpable collaborative energy” (ON Magazine). We are thrilled.

Gubaidulina with the New European Ensemble

In early October I sang on several concerts honoring the composer Sofia Gubaidulina with the New European Ensemble. I first encountered her magisterial Hommage à T. S. Eliot at West Cork Chamber Music Festival several years ago; I couldn’t believe the sheer force of the music and the sympathy of the text setting. It was a huge pleasure to revisit the piece with these stellar players, and we got an excellent review in the NRC:

“In Hommage à T.S. Eliot (1987) liet sopraan Katharine Dain de volle reikwijdte van haar stem horen: quasi-spreekgezang en met lucht omklede fluisteringen in de laagte, via expressief uitgespuugde lettergrepen, tot vlammend hoge uithalen.”

(“In Hommage à T. S. Eliot (1987) Katharine Dain let loose the full range of her voice: quasi-sprechstimme and airy whispering in the low range, syllables expressively spat out, to eviscerating, flaming highs.

My first Cunégonde

I’ve been singing the showpiece “Glitter and be gay” for years, but finally I got to sing the whole role of Cunégonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Banff. This role is a keeper; I had so much fun getting to know her, finding her unique physicality and voice, and being as much of a diva as possible. The Calgary Herald reviewed the whole show positively and had these kind words about my performance:

“Casting Katharine Dain’s dark-hued Cunégonde was the right choice for the outdoor performance. Dain has a faithful and solid tone throughout her entire range, and a mature, modulated coloration that is truly enviable. There has been a swing of late toward light lyric/soubrette-styled performances of the role the past 20 years, but Dain reminded us what the richer lyric coloratura fach ought truly to sound like in her tightly controlled performance of the epic cavatina/cabaletta Glitter and be gay. Bernstein’s parody of Marguerite’s “Ah! Je ris, de me voir si belle” in Gounod’s Faust, satirized the addiction to jewelry and Cunégonde’s incapacity to resist it. Dain pulled off the cynical, saucy line “If I’m not pure, at least my jewels are!” disturbingly well.”

Watch a video of the whole aria here.

Praise for Konstanze in Massy

I was very happy to read the following review on Olyrix after our final Entführung of the season in Massy:

“Également lauréate du Concours international de chant de Clermont-Ferrand 2017, Katharine Dain est la révélation de cette soirée. Sa voix ample et soyeuse, ses phrasés souples et son timbre chaleureux se révèlent dès son premier air (“Ach ich liebte, war so glücklich“, acte I). Son interprétation subtile semble donner envie à l’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Massy (et au chef Dominique Rouits) de se surpasser.READ MORE