The Power of Words

Yesterday’s RBA concert was an intriguing mix of music and poetry presented by soprano Zi Xin Emily Lapin (soprano), Jialiang Zhu (piano) and Kathryn Knowles (polymath with her poet on).  It was a carefully curated programme and it featured surtitles throughout (major bonus points for that).

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Emily kicked off (boldly) with Strauss’ “Das Rosenband”.  I’m always a little nervous when young singers essay Strauss but this came off well.  Apparently it would have kicked off Emily’s masters recital which was scheduled for about two weeks after the shit hit the fan.  This was followed by three settings of 13th century Chinese court poetry set by Weije Gao.  The texts deal with romantic love in its various phases from infatuation to disillusion.  They are rather good and the settings sound appropriate.  Excellent pianism from Jialiang here and interesting singing from Emily. She produced darker, almost mezzoish, colours which I really liked.

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Five songs by David Jaeger setting texts by David Cameron followed.  Cameron is not a poet I’ve read at all but these poems about his wife and children are beautiful, often very condensed and emotionally quite wide ranging.  The setting are stylistically quite varied and suit the texts.  Again, I’m not familiar with Jaeger’s music but he seems not afraid to go where the words take him.  The performances were good too.

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The next set was a bit different.  Kathryn read four of her poems while Jialiang improvised at the piano.  The texts were very varied.  “The Streets of London”, for example, is a sort of homage to Kathryn’s late grandmother while “‘it’s hailing outside’ said the whale” is almost surrealist.  Jialiang reacted with a mixture of the melodic and the more abrasive, including extended technique.  It was an interesting thing to do in a recital and I enjoyed it.

The final set was four of the song from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne.  These were really good.  Emily and Jialiang brought out all the humour and playfulness in the words and the music and were obviously enjoying themselves as much as the audience.  A fitting end to a pleasant lunchtime hour.

Photo credits: Stelth Ng


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