Renée Fleming is no stranger to crossover. America’s favourite soprano has dabbled in rock music (2010’s Dark Hope), jazz (2005’s Haunted Heart), even duetted with Michael Bolton. But, until now, these have remained off-duty projects, separate from her official operatic identity. But in Distant Light she brings two worlds together, combining covers of Björk songs with music by Barber and Anders Hillborg in a recording that might just offer a vision of things to come in the classical music business.
This feels like a coherent and convincing recital programme, tipping naturally from Barber’s hazy vision of pre-lapsarian America into Hillborg’s luminous sonic landscapes before casting off the classical anchor and drifting out into Björk’s broad lakes of sound and texture, beautifully reimagined in Hans Ek’s arrangements.
Fleming still has one of the loveliest voices in the business, and that blooming tone is celebrated not only in the Barber but in Hillborg’s settings of poems by Mark Strand, former US Poet Laureate, which eschew the composer’s signature massive soundscapes for gentler, more intricate textures (lovingly performed here by Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic). If the tone feels more manufactured in the three Björk tracks, it’s not unpleasantly so. Together they make a natural ending to a programme that quietly dissolves divisions between genres to rather wonderful effect.