Cathy Berberian: Music of the World

review berberian x1 cong

During her life mezzo-soprano Berberian sang everything — as the sleeve notes say — from Monteverdi to the Beatles (the “mushroom heads” as they were called in Germany).

She interpreted contemporary avant-garde music composed by people such as John Cage and Igor Stravinsky, as well as works by Monteverdi, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Kurt Weill, as well as singing The Beatles, and folk songs from several countries and cultures (she sings in 16 languages on this CD). She even got a mention in a Steely Dan song “Even Cathy Berberian knows/There’s one roulade she can’t sing.”

Her voice is distinctive and her approach even more so, combining serious intent with humour, so this CD opens with mournful Hungarian songs before rapidly moving onto I Bought Me A Cat (“Bought me a cat and the cat pleased me/I fed my cat under yonder tree/Cat goes fiddle-i-fee.”

It’s a charming CD, pleasing for those who like her voice alone and also for those who want mere entertainment.

It opens with the Hungarian Ablakomba, Ablakomba Besütött a Holdvilág (“Through my window shone the moonlight”), a sad song about a country girl being betrayed by her lover and then Nem Messze Van Ide Kis Margitta, another sad song about Margitta being close by.

Then we get the far more jovial folk song from the land of Trump, basically a children’s song (“Dog goes bow-wow, bow-wow/Horse goes neigh, neigh/Cow goes moo, moo” etc) sung by a mezzo-soprano, complete with animal impressions. The animal theme continues with the Chinese Of What Use Is a Girl (’E Keep a Dog to Watch the House), sung in English.

Elsewhere she changes her voice for the Bulgarian Di-li-do, presumably for authenticity; sings in Yiddish for the lively Romanian tune Roumania and throws off some yodelling in the Swiss Vo Luzern uf Weggis zue. It’s an extraordinary album.

The standouts are the Welsh Ar Hyd Y Nos for its mournful air and the lively Spanish El vito, but it’s all good.

Out on SWR (SWR19010CD).

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