Anna Netrebko; Prague Philharmonia/Emmanuel Villaume (Deutsche Grammophon 477 7639)

9 November 2008 3 stars

SouvenirsThis new disc – Anna Netrebko's fourth solo album for Deutsche Grammophon – is something of a mixed bag, and considering the extremely diverse nature of the repertoire, that's no surprise. Entitled Souvenirs, the recital seems to be a melange of arias and songs from all kinds of sources with no apparent connection other than Netrebko's liking for them.

All well and good, except that the succession of random sentimental music from extremely diverse sources – operetta one minute, Andrew Lloyd Webber another, a Strauss lied the next – does not make for a satisfying whole, while an overly resonant acoustic does the recording no favours and not everything Netrebko sings suits her undeniably special instrument.

For me, the most successful items are those sung in the Eastern European or Scandinavian languages, where Netrebko's very Russian-sounding voice and accent sit happily with the material. Dvorak's 'Songs My Mother Taught Me', for instance, is absolutely gorgeous, the singer capturing just the wistful air of the poem, which she sings in Czech (appropriate since the orchestra is from Prague, where the recording took place). Grieg's 'Solveigs Sang' from Peer Gynt is likewise performed with a sense of text (again, the original Norwegian is used), apparently a happy return to a piece that the soprano sang as a fifteen year old.

I must say, the two Strauss items are a less happy match with Netrebko's voice for me. However beautifully she uses it, particularly in the 'Wiegenlied', there is no getting away from the fact that she produces a Slavonic edge where Austrian cream is needed, and 'Cäcilie' is just not delivered with the warmth of tone and floating legato at the top that various of Netrebko's competitors display in this piece on record. Conversely, the two Rimsky-Korsakov songs, newly arranged by Andreas N Tarkmann, fit her like a glove. 'Plenivšis' Rozoy, Solovey', Op. 2, No. 2, is the stand-out, with a hauntingly exquisite, almost sinuous drive around the melodic line. The traditional Jewish song, 'Scholf sche, mein Vögele', is another case where Netrebko's distinctive timbre really suits the style of the music, and the way she does it in a very controlled half-tone through the lower part of her voice is magical.

I don't find her rendition of 'Depuis le jour' from Charpentier's Louise comes anywhere near the beauty of Te Kanawa, Cotrubas and even Fleming, however, and for me Netrebko comes off less well in the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann than her partner in the duet, Latvian mezzo Elīna Garanča, whose luscious delivery sits much more easily in the French language and line. The joie de vivre of 'Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss' from Lehar's Giuditta is more her bag, even if again she lacks the golden sound of earlier interpreters; the Souvenirssame goes for 'Im Chambre separée', which does not show the normally reliable Piotr Beczala on his usual lyrical form.

To my mind, some of the other tracks seem bland simply because the pieces themselves are rather dull. Guastavino's 'La rosa y el sauce' falls into this category, though Netrebko's delivery is attractive, as does Hahn's 'L'Énamourée'. Gimenez's 'La tarántula é un bicho mú malo' is witty but rather makes a fool of one's mouth at only 1'32 in length; Arditi's 'Il bacio' is extremely cute, however, a great example of the Netrebko glamour, and Lloyd Webber's 'Pie Jesu' is an appealing enough duet with the English treble, Andrew Swait.

The Prague Philharmonia plays well for Emmanuel Villaume, though as noted above the acoustic isn't as crisp and well-defined as is DG's norm. Overall, I'm sure Netrebko's die-hard fans will be delighted, but I wish a more coherent and interesting project had been conceived, given the things this artist can do with the right material.

By Dominic McHugh