Fifteen years separates these two discs of Spirituals by Barbara Hendricks and the intervening years have done little to tarnish the voice’s beauty. I suppose if one listens carefully and with a highly critical ear, a slight wear on the top register is detectable, a little of the gloriously rich bloom has gone but, for the most part, the consistency is remarkable.
However the two discs differ quite a lot in other ways. The first one might be seen to have a more sophisticated approach, treating the spirituals more as art song with piano accompaniments beautifully realised by classical pianist and winner of the Leeds Piano Competition in 1975, Dmitri Alexeev, whilst the second adopts what one would consider a more traditional approach with the contribution of the Moses Hogan Singers. You might think, therefore that the second would be the more satisfying, but I prefer the approach of the first, which brings more concentration on the songs and Miss Hendricks’s glorious singing. More than once the second disc, though beautifully executed, has a whiff of Hollywood, and it is the first disc I listen to most often. You might have different preferences.
The first disc has a good cross section of slow and up tempo songs, of the not so well known and favourites like Swing low. sweet chariot and Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. Hendricks gorgeous voice is in prime condition here, velvety and rich in the lower and middle registers and opening out into that gleamingly individual top register. Her diction is superb too and she makes no concessions to the music, singing with a burning conviction that suits the material well. Her exhortation of The lord loves a sinner in Roundabout da mountain would convince any sinner to repent whilst her beautifully lulling Swing slow, sweet chariot would rock any baby to sleep. She also has the voice for joy in such songs as Ev’ry time I feel de spirit. A wonderful disc and on its own well worth the price of the two disc set, which closes a disc guaranteed to lift the spirits.
The second disc provides variety by including songs for unaccompanied solo voice and for just the choir, but, for my money, there is more musical variety in the first one.