Many of BBC Legends' releases have done service to expand what we know about major artists like Barbriolli, Tennstedt, and Horenstein. But Janet Baker's reputation has never needed any expansion or help. She was widely recorded in her prime. Standing back, it's amazing that she never made a bad recording; her level of performance was extraordinarily high in everything she touched. The voice was lustrous and used with intensity and emotional depth. Baker never sang a careless note or coasted through a score, whether one as slight as an English folksong or as great as the B minor Mass.
She was a great recitalist, not as lovable as de los Angeles or as charismatic as Schwarzkopf, perhaps, but fully their equal, which is the highest praise I can think of. On this BBC release we get most of the songs from 1983, with the addition of a few numbers by Purcell and Peter Warlock from 1968 (the two Purcell songs, "Sleep, Adam, and take thy rest" and "Lord, what is man?" are breathtaking examples of Baker's mastery). By the later date, twenty years into the fullness of her career, she showed some wear in opera, but with just a piano on stage the voice was as fresh as a young woman's (Baker was 49 at the time). A handful of Baroque songs begin the recital, but the rest is devoted to English songs from the twentieth century. No one was better in this music, with only Peter Pears and Kathleen Ferrier as equals. Baker began her career with an anthology of English songs on a tiny label, Saga, before she was fully launched by EMI, again in English songs. As familiar as she was in this material, nothing can diminish how touching, musical, and thoroughly involved she is here. Geoffrey Parsons provides sensitive accompaniments, and the sound is as good as if it came from the studio.
In short, there's every reason to welcome this CD with joy and appreciation -- highly recommended.