Rachel Fenlon is aa unusual talent. She’s equally skilled as a soprano and as a pianist and she has combined those talents to create an evolving show called Fenlon and Fenlon where she sings (mostly) art song while accompanying herself on piano. I saw a very early version of the show in Toronto back in 2016. Last night there was a chance to see Rachel again; streamed from Berlin by Against the Grain as part of the Opera Pub series.
Last night at Gallery 345 Rachel Fenlon gave a preview performance of her new one woman show Fenlon & Fenlon:Liebesbotschaft. It’s a program of fifteen more or less well known Schubert lieder put together to create some kind of thematic arc around love and loss and redemption. There’s scarcely a Bächlein to be seen. The USP, of course, is that Rachel accompanies herself on the piano.
It’s curiously difficult to figure out just how this approach makes the experience different for the audience, especially when, as in this case, one is not familiar with the singer in normal mode. It’s also quite hard to sort out what one thinks ought to be happening from what objectively is. For example, I initially thought that Rachel sounded balanced much further back relative to the piano than usual. Then I shut my eyes and the impression completely disappeared. It’s odd. Certain songs certainly seem to gain from the approach. Gretchen am Spinnrade perhaps most of all, with the piano more than ever seeming to be the spinning wheel. Another effect was it made me reconsider my impression that the piano parts in Schubert are pretty simple (in a sense they are compared to, say, Strauss) but played this way one realises that they are far from trivial.
It’s that quiet time of year but this week there’s a bit of an unexpected bonus. Canadian soprano Rachel Fenlon, usually based in Berlin, is giving a somewhat unusual recital at Gallery 345 at 8pm on Friday. It’s a recital of Schubert songs in which she accompanies herself at the piano. Rachel is an accomplished pianist and could have chosen a solo career on that instrument rather than singing. Since there isn’t a Schubert cycle written specifically for female voice she’s curated one for herself and called it Liebesbotschaft. I don’t know if the manner of performance would have been common in Schubert’s day but surely not unheard of. Anyway, it should be fun. It’s also a preview of sorts as Rachel plans to tour this program in Europe.
More details here.