Friday, 27 November 2015

The Shepherd on the Rock - Ailish Tynan, Emma Johnson & Finghin Collins

Ailish Tynan
Ailish Tynan
Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Spohr; Ailish Tynan, Emma Johnson, Finghin Collins; Temple Music at Inner Temple Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 25 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen as the centrepiece of a vivid and entrancing recital

What to programme with Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock? On her recent disc with clarinettist Julian Bliss, soprano Ailish Tynan gave us a voyage round the 19th century's love affair with the clarinet (see my review). For her recital for Temple Music at Inner Temple Hall, Ailish Tynan was joined by clarinettist Emma Johnson and pianist Finghin Collins to give us a voyage around Schubert himself, mixing the composer's music with that of his great predecessors and contemporaries. So we had Beethoven's Variations on 'La ci darem las mano' from Don Giovanni WoO 28, Mozart's concert aria Ah, lo previdi, K 272, Schubert's songs Wanderers Nachtlied II D 768, Gretchen am Spinnrade D 118 and Die Forelle D 550, three of Louis Spohr's Sechs deutsche Lieder Op.103, Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata in A minor D 821 transcribed for clarinet, and of course Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D 965.

Emma Johnson
Emma Johnson
The recital was held in Inner Temple Hall, rather than Temple Music's regular venue of Middle Temple Hall. The occasion was a celebration of Inner Temple Hall's recent acquisition of a new Steinway piano, and very impressive it was too.

The recital opened with Emma Johnson and Finghin Collins performing Beethoven's Variations on 'La ci darem la mano' from Don Giovanni which was probably written for a benefit concert at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1795. The work was originally written for two oboes and cor anglais, but the transcription suited the clarinet and piano well. Rather impressively Emma Johnson played this, and all her contributions to the evening, from memory. After a straightforward statement of the melody, Beethoven gives us a varied sequence of variations by turns perky, characterful, showy, thoughtful and darkly dramatic, finishing with a delightfully jazz-like fugal variation. Throughout Emma Johnson played with great style and a charm, allied to superb technical skill. She was well supported by Finghin Collins who got a chance to show off in one of the later variations.

Finghin Collins - photo Frances Marshall
Finghin Collins - photo Frances Marshall
Mozart’s concert aria Ah, lo previdi, K.272 might seem a strange choice for such a programme but Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is far closer in style and structure to Mozart’s concert aria than to a typical lied. So Ailish Tynan and Finghin Collins’ performance gave us something of a model for Schubert’s work besides being a terrific performance in its own right. Mozart wrote the aria for Josefina Dušková (Josepha Duschek) the wife of the composer František Dušek and a singer of some skill, and Mozart certainly took advantage of her technical abilities. Singing from memory, Ailish Tynan threw herself into the drama from the very opening notes, with a strong and dramatic account of the opening recitative. In the first aria, Tynan’s voice was firm yet flexible and there was a tremendous vividness to her performance. She sang with big, bright tones but there was subtlety too. Following a second recitative which was quiet, but equally vivid as the first, she sang the finely touching cavatina with a lovely lyric line. Throughout the performance you really believed that Tynan was indeed in the dramatic moment. Pianist Finghin Collins provided fine support, and made the piano reduction of the orchestral part sound completely natural. It was a shame, though, that an arrangement could not have been made to include Emma Collins’ clarinet in the mix too.

Tynan and Collins followed the Mozart with a group of three Schubert songs. Wanderers Nachtlied II, D.768 dates from 1822, both performers brought a lovely sense of magical calm to the song, with Tynan displaying a lovely ease at the top of her voice. Here and elsewhere, her sense of the words was vividly communicative and you hardly needed a translation. Gretchen am Spinnrade, D.118 dates from 1814 and sets a poem by Goethe from Faust. Tynan started quiet yet intense, really living the words and building to a bright climax with ‘Dein Kuss’. From the way that she and Collins built up the drama so that the singer seemed almost demented by the end, it was clear that they took the view that Gretchen was no innocent and had already surrendered to Faust. Finally, Die Forelle, D.550, a song which needs no introduction, and in which Ailish Tynan showed what a real master story teller she is.

The first half concluded with three songs by one of Schubert’s older contemporaries, Louis Spohr. His Deutsche Lieder date from 1837 and were written to include a solo clarinet part which is of equal weight with the voice. Or perhaps more weight, because whilst the vocal line is relatively conventional and lyric, Spohr uses the solo clarinet to bring real drama and expressiveness to the songs. In Sei still mein Herz it was the clarinet which gave the song a real sense of romantic drama, and in Das heimliche Lied the instrument made atmospheric interjections. The final song was delightful and carefree with an almost popular feel to the clarinet part. Here again Tynan gave us some vivid storytelling. It was noticeable that in the songs, which were generally strophic, Spohr used repeats for the verses rather than creating variant settings as Schubert sometimes did.

There were just two works in the second half, first was Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, D.821 written for a six stringed fretted, bowed instrument which became obsolete almost before Schubert finished the sonata. It is now common to adapt the sonata for suitable instruments, often the cello, and here it was Emma Johnson’s clarinet which took solo billing. The opening Allegro moderato started out attractively soulful, with a lovely sense of phrasing, before becoming delightfully carefree with some great runs. In the lyrical Adagio, Emma Johnson gave us a beautifully sung melody, and finally the delightful Allegretto played with strong tones, yet carefree. A good transcription makes the work sound idiomatic in its new guise, and this performance certainly had me convinced.

Finally, we came to Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D.965 which he wrote in 1828. It was probably written for the soprano Anna Milder-Hauptmann (who had sung the title role in the premiere of Beethoven's Fidelio) and it is far closer to a concert aria than a lied. Both Ailish Tynan and Emma Johnson performed the work from memory, which gave a great sense of immediacy to the performance. Following the highly dramatic introduction and lovely clarinet tune, Ailish Tynan entered with a wonderfully accurate and expressive account of the highly mobile vocal line. Not only accurate, but strongly sung with a lovely sense of drama. The second part of the song was more elegiac with building sense of rapture, whilst the final verse looking forward to Spring was upbeat with some fine passagework and a lovely freedom to the top of the voice. The work concludes with voice and clarinet in duet, and the performers brought a fine conclusion to what had been a vividly engrossing recital.

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