Yesterday afternoon I attended the first concert of the year for the Mazzoleni Songmasters series with Leslie Ann Bradley, Allyson McHardy and Rachel Andrist presenting a programme entitled Sirens; structured around the Four Elements. There was a strong slant towards women composers with the programme anchored around four duets from Elizabeth Raum’s Sirens cycle. Unsurprisingly perhaps a lot of the material was quite unfamiliar with a sprinkling of more familiar fare from the likes of Schumann.
I had somewhat mixed feelings about Sirens. Generally I liked the texts and the way they were set but in the first couple of pieces; Aphrodite and Echo, I searched in vain for much of interest in the piano part,. The later two pieces were more interesting with Artemis; Goddess of the Moon and Hunt seeming much more accomplished. All four did make excellent use though of the very different timbres of the two singers.
There were some other really nice pieces. Highlights included Lee Holby’s In the Wand of the Wind which injected a welcome touch of modernism that was much more to my taste than the neo-Broadway style of Ben Moore’s In the Dark Pine Wood. Rachmaninoff’s The Water Lily had a fascinating chromatic piano line and allowed Leslie Ann to show off impressive Russian. The find of the afternoon though was perhaps Rebecca Clark’s setting of Masefield’s The Seal Man. It’s the classic selkie story and both voice and piano parts were really interesting. It was beautifully sung by Allyson.
It was also a nice touch to close the first half with Allyson singing Blow the Wind Southerly establishing the mezzo/contralto tradition back to Kath Ferrier via Maureen Forrester on a day that would not have been out of place in Lancashire in January; a keen cold wind driving intermittent sleet down the street.
One slight oddity I noticed was the acoustic. The hall was less full than usual and it seemed to result in a brighter, more resonant, even somewhat harsh, sound than I’m accustomed to in Mazzoleni. Ironically, if more people had turned out to hear this well curated and well performed concert it might have sounded even better!