Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters recital featured the relatively unusual combination of soprano Monica Whicher accompanied by Judy Loman on harp. It was a very well constructed and executed afternoon of song. Each set had something to offer.Th first set was of English songs of the 16th and 17th centuries including the very lovely O Death Rock Me Asleep attributed, almost certainly inaccurately, to Anne Boleyn. All very touching and harp seeming very appropriate for songs which were likely intended for lute accompaniment.
Christian Gerhaher’s recording of Mahler Lieder with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano is his first recording of the great Mahler cycles with orchestra. The disc contains Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the Kindertotenlieder and the Rückert Lieder. This is singing of the highest class with great beauty, no lack of power and intense attention to the text. It’s hard to imagine a singer being more in this music than Gerhaher. Being Gerhaher, it’s quite individual and quite restrained (much less exuberant than Fischer-Dieskau) but without sounding unduly mannered. It sounds exactly right and yet no-one else would sing these songs quite the same way. The accompaniment from the Montreal orchestra is also very fine with great clarity of texture and lovely playing of the important woodwind solos.
The recording quality is excellent with a judicious balance between voice and orchestra and a limpidity that does justice to the clarity of the orchestral playing. Full texts and translations are provided.
Although recorded in 2010 and 2013 and released in Europe in 2016 Barbara Hendricks’ recording of Mahler Lieder on her own Arte Verum label has only recently been released in North America. It’s quite an interesting choice of works. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde are given in the Schoenberg chamber arrangements. The Rückert Lieder come in the piano version.
The performances throughout show considerable artistry but the voice is clearly past its best. There’s some sense of strain, even in the Rückert Lieder and some slightly wobbly intonation. Not, I think, the very best versions available of any of the works but interesting in their own way. The accompaniments by the Swedish Chamber Ensemble conducted by Love Derwinger (who also plays piano) are lovely and delicate though and the whole generously filled disc is very well recorded. The trilingual booklet includes texts and a couple of essays.
Voyage to Wien, presented by Sara Schabas and Daniel Norman at the Church of the Redeemer last night was a nicely constructed tribute in song to that city on the Danube. Things kicked off wittily with Bernstein’s (well he did conduct the Vienna Phil) “I hate music” followed by nicely rendered accounts of varied songs by the Mahlers and Schubert before exploiting the performers connections with the church choir to bring members of the choir in for “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” from Brahm’s German Requiem.
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.
German tenor Christoph Prégardien and English pianist Julius Drake teamed up at Walter Hall last night for one of the finest Liederabends that I have ever been privileged to hear. The first set was all Mahler; six songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn plus one from the Rückert-Lieder. It started strongly with three essentially comic songs; all donkeys, geese and magic rings. The teamwork between the musicians was exemplary. and the attention to text by both parties penetrating. And then it was the little things that raised the bar from excellent to exceptional; the use of a pause, the slight lingering on a syllable, the accelerando into a comic line.
I went to Walter Hall last night to see a couple of Mahler works in chamber reduction played by the Faculty Artists Ensemble conducted by Uri Mayer. I think I like Mahler in chamber reduction a lot. With one instrument to a part complex textures become clearer. No doubt there are conductors that can produce that clarity with a big orchestra but there are also, sadly, too many who reduce it to a grisly stew of unidentified body parts. It also allows singers to be heard without screaming. The only time I want to hear a tenor sounding like a goat being slaughtered is in that Dean Burry piece. I guess chamber reduction might not work for, say, the 8th Symphony but for the orchestral song cycles, the 4th Symphony, and, I’d hazard a guess, the 2nd Symphony I like it just fine.