Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lucy Crowe [Photo © Marco Borgreve]
05 Nov 2015

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lucy Crowe [Photo © Marco Borgreve]

 

Continuing the series’ intention to place the composer’s little-known songs alongside his most acclaimed and familiar works, the performers also offered another juxtaposition within the work of art-song: Schubert’s uncommon sensitivity to the poetic texts of his lieder is familiar, though never taken for granted, but here Crowe and her musical partners allowed us to consider, and compare, Claude Debussy’s finely crafted musical responses to the French language and poetic sensibility.

The first line of the opening song, ‘An den Mond’ (Hölty, To the moon), seemed apposite, as Crowe extended her own ‘silvery gleam’ across the Wigmore Hall, here and throughout the recital, bathing the audience in a radiant auditory lustre. All the musical elements were employed to convey meaning: the slow tread of the third stanza introduced a melancholy quality as the protagonist speaks of his desire to ‘lay a wreath on every meadow’ (‘Und einen Kranz uaf jeden Anger streue’); the long silent pause at the end of the verse suggested the retreat of the moon which will veil itself once more in the final verse, a retreat embodied too by the delicate weight of the vocal line and Martineau’s withdrawing accompaniment. Crowe did not always use the text, though, as much as I would have liked. In a recent reflection on art-song, I wrote that ‘audiences have to work hard to understand and enjoy a song: they have to listen intently to a text, perhaps in a language not their own, and can’t just sit back and let the music ‘wash over’ them. There’s nowhere to hide in a small venue, and they can feel as much a part of the performance as the singer. It can be difficult too, even for regular lieder attendees, to both follow a text, especially a translation, and simultaneously listen in a sustained way. The processes of listening can get in the way of the ‘experience’ of the song. But, the rewards for trying are immense …’ And, I felt here that during this sequence of German songs at times sheer beauty of tone and elegance of delivery took priority over the textual narrative and sounds.

That said, there were many exquisite moments. The extreme delicacy of the appeal, ‘Sinke, liebe Sonne, sinke!’ (Sink, dearest sun, sink), at the opening of ‘An die Sonne’ (von Baumberg) was magical (though the mood was sadly marred by the audience coughing and spluttering which repeatedly intruded throughout the performance). The poet-speaker’s avowal that the vision of Mary has caused the tumult of the world to vanish like a dream, rose to a transcendent suspended peak in ‘Marie’ (Novalis), swelling and declining with supreme grace and control. ‘Lob der Tränen’ (von Schlegel, In praise of tears) was wonderfully mellifluous, the gently drooping vocal phrases introduced by eloquently aspiring melodic motifs above inconspicuous triplet quavers in the left hand. Crowe suggested a coy delicacy with the image of ‘sipping kissing from fresh lips’ (‘Frischer Lippen/ Küsse nippen’), and the ebbs and flows of Martineau’s piano postlude were equally subtle in inference.

As ever, Martineau was a consummate accompanist. And, there was strong communication between the duo, as in the middle verse of ‘Nachtviolen’ (Mayrhofer, Dame’s violets) — a song in which voice and piano are in almost constant rhythmic synchronicity — where the tempo moved forward in the middle stanza which depicts life and brightness. Martineau demonstrated great responsiveness, and varied colours and inflections, in ‘Du bist die Ruh’ (Rückert, You are repose). In ‘Ellens Gesang III’ (Scott, trans. Adam Storck, Ellen’s song III) Crowe was joined by harpist Lucy Wakeford, reminding us that in Scott’s The Lady of the Lake when Roderick Dhu leads his men in rebellion against King James, his march is momentarily halted when he hears the distant song of Ellen Douglas, the Lady of the Lake, offering a prayer to the Virgin Mary, accompanied by the harpist Allan-bane. The timbre was atmospheric and the composed serenity of Wakeford’s playing suggested a mysterious and captivating suspension of time.

Crowe seemed more in her natural element in the second half of the recital, when she presented songs by Debussy, singing with restraint and refinement, and creating a compelling intimacy. Her enunciation of the French texts was more convincing, perhaps because there is a softer emphasis on the consonants, and she was wonderfully attuned to the melodic lyricism of Debussy’s vocal phrases, colouring the lines with a light vibrato.

The Chinese pastoral scene depicted in ‘Rondel Chinois’ (Marius Dillard, Chinese rondel) was given an exotic tinge by the long, ornate, high-lying vocalise which opens the song and the silky trills which decorated the vocal description of ‘le lac bored d’azalée/ De nénuphar et de bambou’ (the lake bordered with azaleas, waterlilies and bamboo), and complemented by the rich range of colours within Martineau’s accompaniment. The rhythm and meter of the song is less languid than is sometimes the case with the French composer’s songs, and the irregularity — with passages gaining momentum, then waning — enhanced further the sense of ‘strangeness’. ‘Jane’ (Leconte de Lisle), which tells of the poet’s submission to a pair of beautiful eyes — ‘Je pâlis et tombe en langueur:/ Deux beaux yeux m’ont brisé le coeur’ — was more tender and unassuming, and Crowe shaped the long, high melodic passages which skill and control. The piano’s lower lines imbued ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ (de Lisle, The girls with flaxen hair) with a rich warmth that contrasted with the directness and clarity of the singer’s statement: ‘L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,/ Avec l’alouette a chanté.’ (Love, with the clear sun of summertime, has sung with the lark.) In this song, and in ‘Flot, palmes et sables’ (Armand, Renaud, Waves, palms, sands), Crowe spun gloriously silver threads; in the latter, the tumbling cascades depicting the showers of blessings which fall in the palm grove were thrilling. In ‘Les papillons’ (The butterflies), too, the crystalline, concentrated sweetness of the soprano’s upper register was enchanting, and drew attention to the syllabic setting of the text, especially as the vocal line was sensitively doubled in the piano left hand. Here, it was Martineau’s turn to effect light-fingered, restive tumbles, breezing through the right-hand arppegiated figuration.

There was a great range of mood and motion within these Debussy songs. There was wit and insouciance: the faster tempo of the second verse of ‘Séguidille’ (Théophile Gautier, Seguidilla) was charmingly initiated by Martineau’s chromatic slidings, and the showy trills and roulades were exuberant. ‘Coquetterie posthume’ (Posthumous coquetry) was urgent and impassioned, reflecting Gautier’s potent mix of sacred and sensual love, and the imagery which blends love and death; Crowe was untroubled by the extensive range and extraordinarily large leaps of the song, which were dramatic and arresting. The octave grace note which opens ‘Mandoline’ (Paul Verlaine, Mandolin) signalled the sprightliness and excitability of the song; Martineau’s dissonant ‘strumming’ formed an volatile bed for the vocal lines and the slippery harmonic progressions produced dips and sways which culminated in the ‘la la’ farewell of the courtier’s light-hearted serenade. So often during the recital it was Crowe’s glistening top range that seduced, but in ‘En sourdine’ (Verlaine, Muted), she found a mysterious darkness at the bottom, particularly in the song’s closing lines: ‘Voix de notre désespoir,/ Le rossignol chantera’ (Voice of our despair, the nightingale shall sing). Indeed, one of the highpoints of the evening, ‘Rondeau’ (Alfred de Masset) demonstrated Crowe’s vocal focus and strength across the range; here, too, she used the text dramatically, working hard to communicate clearly through the busy piano part.

This concert was persuasive evidence of the rightness and necessity of the Hall’s commitment to art-song: evidence that the fusion of poetry and music, when performed with such sympathetic artistry, results in potency and poignancy in equal measure.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Lucy Crowe, soprano; Malcolm Martineau, piano; Lucy Wakeford, harp. Wigmore Hall, London, Saturday 31st October 2015.

Schubert: ‘An den Mond’, ‘Heidenröslein’, ‘An die Sonne’, ‘Iphegenia’, ‘Lob der Tränen’, ‘Marie’, ‘Der Fluss’, ‘Nachtviolen’, ‘Du bist di Ruh’, ‘Ellens Gesang III’, ‘Die Männer sind méchant!’

Debussy: ‘Rondel chinois’, ‘Jane’, ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’, ‘Rondeau’, ‘Flot, palmes et sables’, ‘Les papillons’, Séguidille, ‘Coquetterie posthume’, ‘Tragédie’, ‘Mandoline’, ‘En sourdine’.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):