Unless you are a certain type of early music fiend you may not have heard a lot of Christine Brandes. As noted earlier, I have an aesthetic soft spot for her, for several reasons.
First of all, this CD was basically my introduction to baroque vocal music. I made myself a copy from the one in the music library at my university when I was an undergraduate and then eventually I bought it. I am not a crazy person, either. This recording was reissued at least once, and stayed in print a lot longer than most such things do; you can still get it here. It has some things that tend to appear in many Purcell recitals, but the well-known pieces, e.g. ‘O solitude’ are actually not as effective as some of the rarer ones. Also included are some songs by Purcell’s teacher John Blow, and Brandes makes the most of what is not really heavyweight music, e.g. with the rather elegiacally sweet The Self Banished. I should also note that there are a couple of borderline annoying items in here, e.g. ‘Twas within a furlong,’ but — hey, take the bad with the good.
But anyway. Brandes has a distinctive voice and a fair amount of charm. This is still, I think, one of the best Scarlatti cantata performances out there. And if you have a taste for the obscure this one of Stradella’s cantatas is also worth your time. Here is part of that. (These are not my videos. There appear to be about five or six people who, among them, have put most of the Purcell CD and the Stradella one on the internet.)
I think the reason I have this sort of long-running low-grade Brandes thing is that I associate her voice with discovering a lot of things that it turns out I really like. Handel’s Nine German Arias is among these. I first heard three of those on this recording. My favorite performance of these at this point is Röschmann’s, but it actually took me a while to warm up to that recording because I was used to a more ‘early music’ style of performance, ala Brandes and Emma Kirkby. Röschmann’s voice and style were not what I expected and initially I didn’t like it. (I realize that this is insane. But it is true. Besides, if you take the long view, it is Emma Kirkby’s fault, not Christine Brandes’s or mine. Certainly not Dorothea Röschmann’s.)
I would be willing to bet that most of us have a Brandes analogue somewhere in the past – that is, someone who you might not listen to all the time now, but who introduced you to other things that you wouldn’t have run across otherwise. People who are not necessarily operatic superstars, but are very valuable nonetheless.