Friday, 30 August 2013

Njabulo Thabiso Madlala at St Lawrence Jewry

Njabulo Madlala
For the penultimate concert in the August Music Festival at St. Lawrence Jewry, the baritone Njabulo Thabiso Madlala gave a recital of songs by Schubert, RVW and Roger Quilter, along with some folk-songs from his native South Africa, accompanied by William Vann. First came Schubert's Liebesbotschaft (Love's Greeting), Schafers Klagelied (Shepherd's Lament), Wanderers Nachtlied  (A Wanderer's Night Song) and Rastlose Liebe (Restless Love) and then RVW's Linden Lea, Silent Noon and The Roadside Fire. Roger Quilter's O mistress mine, Go lovely rose and Now sleeps the crimson petal were then followed by three South African folk-songs, Malaika, the Click Song and Lakutshoni Langa.

I first heard Madlala in 2010 after he won the Kathleen Ferrier Award and have continued to follow his career with interest. He has an amazingly resonant and vibrant voice with lovely dark undertones. All the songs in the Schubert group were characterised by a fine legato line combined with nicely crisp diction. His performances had a lovely inwardness with the sense of the poet's deep thoughts underneath. Madlala brought nice sense of calmness to the opening of Liebesbotschaft  combined with Vann's nicely flowing piano part. And there was a thoughtfully hushed sense of melancholy to Schafers Klagelied which developed into something dramatically vivid. Wanderers Nachtlied was profoundly beautiful, with a great sense of quiet intensity. By contrast Rastlose Liebe all vividly dramatic and dynamic.

Madlala is a very communicative performer and this came over particularly in the RVW and Quilter songs where he was singing in English which is not his first language. The English songs had the same virtues as the Schubert, with a lovely sense of line supported by the vibrant resonance of his voice. Linden Lea was sung with a full, round sound and a lovely feeling for the shape of the words. Silent Noon had a sense of quiet inwardness with some magical moments. The Roadside Fire was captivatingly done , with fine support from Vann on piano.

I have to confess to being less familiar with Roger Quilter's songs. His setting of O Mistress Mine was a complete delight and Madlala gave the song a beautiful shape and a surprising depth. Go lovely rose (setting Edmund Waller) had quite a lush piano part with a beautifully direct vocal line, with Madlala shaping the long lines finely. Finally a setting of Tennyson's No sleeps the crimson petal, which he sang with a lovely confiding tone and a beautifully controlled quiet, high ending.

Finally a group of South African folk-songs, enabling Madlala to relax somewhat and display a different side to his personality. Malaika had a gently but catchy charm (the song is Swahili and the title means angel), the Click Song remains a great delight (the name is was given it by European as they could not pronounce the Xhosa title,  Qongqothwane). You can catch Madlala performing the song on YouTube. And finally Lakutshoni Langa, a wistful lovesong. We were treated to an encore, a final folk-song, Tula mama.

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