Winter Words

Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured mezzo Lucia Cervoni, tenor Michael Colvin and pianist Rachel Andrist in a varied programme of song.  It kicked off with two songs by George MacNutt; Take Me to a Green Isle, sung by Michael, and O Love, Be Deep, sung by Lucia.  Both songs are in a quite meditative mood and served to give us a pretty good idea of what we could expect later on.  Michael sings very much in the British manner, which comes as no surprise with his extensive work at ENO and the number of Britten roles he sings.  Lucia’s dark, smokey mezzo sounded rather more operatic.



Lucia’s other contribution to the first part of the show was Mercure’s Dissidences; Trois mélodies sur des poèmes de Gabriel Charpentier.  The songs place quite different demands on the singer; somewhat frenetic in Les lions jaunes hurlent dans le sable, long lyrical lines in Psaume: Le dégaut des chose parfumées et faciles and a need for real power (that we got) in Le cri de joie.  Interesting songs not often performed.

Then it was Michael with one of Britten’s less frequently performed cycles Winter Words.  This sets eight poems by Thomas Hardy dealing as one would expect, though in quite varied ways, with Death and The Passage of Time.  Only Houseman of the major English poets seems quite so obsessed that way!  There’s one poem in the set that one does hear; The Choirmaster’s Burial.  It’s actually rather exciting to hear the rarely performed full set though.  The settings are very Britten, demanding a very wide range of pitch, tone and volume from the singer alongside the usual intricate Britten accompaniment.  Michael and Rachel navigated them most skilfully.  It’s easy to see why one doesn’t hear them more often.

After the break Lucia gave us Mahler’s Fünf Rückert-lieder.  This was very fine singer with a wide emotional range.  Ich atmet’ einen Linden Duff was lovely and lyrical and the rendering of the great Um Mitternacht literally hair raising (or at least my neck thought so).  I just wonder whether it might not have been better to close with this rather than put it in the middle of the set.  In any event I would love to hear her do these with orchestra.

The finale was the Vier Duette of Schumann.  Two of these are “tranladaptations” of Robbie burns by Christoph Gerhard and boy, does Burns sound odd in German.  They both deal with a young man trying to get into a young lay’s room (and presumably much else beside).  The singing and the antics of Ms. Cervoni and Mr. Colvin here were absolutely screamingly funny and produced the almost unheard of effect of having the ultra punctilious Mazzoleni audience hooting and hollering between numbers!

And there was an encore.  It was a charming home grown arrangement of Burn’s Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.  This time in Scots!  It was a lovely concert and a rare chance to hear two fine Canadian singers more often heard on the other side of the pond.

Photo credit: Me

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