Today’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was really quite exceptional. Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer offered up a really well chosen program and executed it extremely well. Grieg’s Sechs Lieder is a lovely and varied setting of six German texts. Poulenc’s Banalités sets texts by Apollinaire in a way that reflects their essential weirdness. Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder are as good examples as one can get of how the Second Vienna School, despite its scary reputation, is really all about lush and approachable and the closing set of Frank Bridge songs showed that he was a heck of a lot more than Britten’s composition teacher.
All the sets got committed, text sensitive and intelligible performances from Simone. What really impressed me though was the quality of the voice. It’s quite bright for a mezzo. I might even say steely in a 503 stainless sort of way. The timbre stays constant except when she wants to veil it. Otherwise it is pure and clear with tightly controlled vibrato even in the upper register and when pushing hard. It never develops harshness or the “squally” slightly uncontrolled thing that happens to many young singers in that zone. There’s power to burn too. Mayer’s pianism continues to astonish and delight me. Perhaps today he was at his best in the tricky Poulenc but throughout one feels that here is a voice independent of, but in complete synch with, the singer; a true partnership of equals.
Then there was the outfit. Designed by the shyest and most retiring couturier I know, Rosemarie Umetsu, for the shyest and most retiring singer (yeah right!). This was a shiny black catsuit; the shoulders left bare (Fab Abs – sorry Joanna) and the front just a bit less so. And there was a dramatic train (not the railway kind, the dress kind). Stunning!
Photo credit: Chris Hutcheson