Friday, 1 November 2013

The Heart of King David

The Heart of King David
The Heart of King David was a lunch-time recital given at the Royal Academy of Music by tenor William Bouvel, mezzo-soprano Sofia Troncoso, pianist Richard Leach and harpist Mary Reid, all students at the Royal Academy of Music. We were treated to a sequence of English songs, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Roger Quiter, Herbert Howells, Ivor Gurney and Henry Purcell which were woven together with improvisations and spoken text to create a continuous narrative about King David. The result was an intriguing re-imagining of the song recital idea.

The key to the programme was the linking narrations, these were written by tenor William Bouvel, who had designed the whole programme, but spoken beautifully by Sofia Troncoso. Generally short, and aphoristic, but highly poetic they formed an important and surprisingly successful link between the items.

Bouvel sang the majority of the solos, the English songs with piano accompaniment (from Richard Leach), interleaved with improvised versions of the psalms sung by Bouvel with harp accompaniment from Reid. These psalm improvisations formed an interesting linking commentary on the story, a way of giving us another view of King David's interior life. Bouvel's improvisations were generally elegantly chant-based, and combined with some lovely harp playing from Reid, but I have to confess that one or two seemed to last a little too long, and Bouvel was in danger of being a bit too monochrome, not bringing enough colour into his voice. Some of them were linked thematically to the song that they preceded. In the most intriguing sequence, Britten's folksong with harp accompaniment There's None to Soothe, ran directly into a piano based improvisation on Psalm 22 from based on the same material.

Bouvel opened with RVW's Infinite Shining Heavens displaying a lovely line and feel for the words. Bouvel has an interesting lyric voice with a fine straight edge to it and it was a number of songs before the tone had really relaxed. Britten's The Tiger was nicely vivid and Quilter's My Life's Delight saw Bouvel singing with a rounded, more relaxed tone, with a nice flowing feel in both voice and piano. Britten's There's None to Soothe was very touching, with the interesting combination of harp and voice.

Troncoso sang Herbert Howells King David (with Bouvel sing King David's own lines) in a lovely modulated mezzo-soprano voice with a nice feel for the rhapsodic nature of the song.

RVW's Love Bade me Welcome and Ivor Gurney's By a Bierside were both a slightly odd fit in terms of the narrative. Bouvel again showed a lovely way with the words but has not yet developed quite the right feel for the intensity and warmth of tone needed to bring off these lyrically rhapsodic songs.

The programme concluded with Purcell's Evening Hymn, sung by Bouvel with Troncoso joining in the Hallelujahs. Here Bouvel's fine line and clear tone worked very well and his voice seemed admirably suited to this earlier style of music. It made me think that perhaps he should cast his net a bit wider for the songs in the programme and that the Gurney (which occurs at the moment that David hears about the death of Absalom) might successfully be replaced by one of the many 17th century English settings of 'When David Heard that Absalom was Dead'.

All the performers were a great credit; both Bouvel and Troncoso showed a nice feel for the English pastoral tradition with Leach as their fine accompanist. And I would have liked to have heard more of Reid's harp playing.

This was an intriguing and imaginative programme which held our attention and brought out a strong narrative sense. I did wonder whether the performers ought to have been a little more daring, perhaps using the harp more instead of the piano in the songs. In fact, I wondered whether we'd needed the piano at all. Doing the entire recital with Reid playing the accompaniments on the harp is an intriguing and rather enticing prospect.

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