This afternoon’s Off Centre concert at the Glenn Gould Studio was structured around three pairs of composer friends; Mozart/Haydn, Schumann/Brahms and Wolf/Mahler. It was a mix of lieder, opera excerpts and piano pieces and was pleasantly varied.
Things kicked off with Russell Braun singing a number of songs from Schumann’s Liederkreis accompanied by his partner, Carolyn Maule on the piano. This was maybe the third time that I’ve heard Russell in recital and he really is impressive. He has a really good command of a wide range of dynamics and tone colour and lovely floaty high notes. If I was being hyper critical I’d say I think there’s a point in the middle voice though that can’t quite sustain the volume he sometimes tries to get. He has quite an operatic approach to lieder (compared to, say, DFD) but that’s quite fun in its own way.
Next up was mezzo Erica Iris Huang (replacing the originally billed Rihab Chaieb; no explanation offered) with pianist Elina Kelebeev. She sang Brahms’ Die Mainacht, which I recognised from an old Marian Anderson recording. Why I have I not run across this girl before? She has a really smooth, dark mezzo with all the notes and no sign of strain through the registers. Very impressive.
The first half was finished off with the Maestoso from Brahms’ First Piano Concerto in his arrangement for four hands. The playing, by husband and wife Boris Zarankin and Inna Perkism was splendidly virtuosic but this is a place, musically, where I can’t go. The two thoughts running through my mind were Evelyn Waugh’s comments about the Battle of Crete and an indelible picture of the piece being played by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. To be fair to all concerned a large part of the audience was in rapture. I wasn’t.
After the interval we got a couple of movements from Haydn’s Piano Sonata in B flat major played by Elina Kelebeev. This was pleasant, elegant, restrained but quite playful music and was much more to my taste. It was followed by Erica and Elina giving us a spirited performance of Smanie Implacabili from Cosí fan tutte.
Then there was more Russell Braun. This time we got five Wolf songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch and two songs from Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn before Russell finished the set with Deh vieni from Don Giovanni. He’s good with the more light hearted material. The serenade was sly and there was subtle humour in the Mahler. It suits him better than being all Stürm und Drang.
The final set was the Four Duets Op. 28 of Brahms. These are quite operatic for art songs and Erica and Russell were giving them a good work out. They sang well together, sparking off each other in a fun, enjoyable way. The accompaniment from Carolyn was equally accomplished.
So, an interesting mixed bag and a fun way to spend a rather dreich Sunday afternoon. I’m going to have to watch out for more of these Off Centre concerts.