Saturday, 12 December 2015

Sheer magic - Elina Garanca and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall

Elīna Garanča at Wigmore Hall (c) Simon Jay Price
Elīna Garanča at Wigmore Hall (c) Simon Jay Price
Brahms, Duparc, Rachmaninov; Elina Garanča, Roger Vignoles; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 11 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Elegant melancholy and passionate longing from the Latvian mezzo-soprano

Not only was Elina Garanča's recital at the Wigmore Hall on 11 December 2015 her Wigmore Hall debut, but there was some unnecessary excitement before it started, as pianist Malcolm Martineau had to pull out and was replaced at the last moment by Roger Vignoles. The programme was unchanged and thankfully you would not have known that the pairing of Garanča and Vignoles hadn't been planned all along. The programme gave use three contrasting groups of melancholy longing about love, from Johannes Brahms, Henri Duparc and Sergei Rachmaninov. Garanča and Vignoles performed a striking series of 14 Brahms songs in the first half, opened the second half with three Duparc songs and then finished with eight Rachmaninov songs. And, of course, the three composers gave us such strikingly different responses even though the emotions depicted were similar. It was a concentrated and serious evening, lifted by the sheer beauty of Garanča's voice and the musicality of the performances.

Elīna Garanča and  Roger Vignoles at Wigmore Hall (c) Simon Jay Price
Elīna Garanča and  Roger Vignoles at Wigmore Hall (c) Simon Jay Price
Elina Garanča's stage persona is poised and elegant, and as a performer she is highly communicative. She sang from memory, so that we were able to appreciate fully the range of facial expression and body language. Such was the directness of her communications that in the Russian songs you hardly needed to look at the translations of the words. Her voice is something of a contrast to her visual image, as it is rich and dark with a lovely lower register. But the tone is focussed and even over the whole range and what was noticeable during the evening was the lovely way she could lighten it and sound girlish where necessary, and how she could float a high line too.

Elina Garanča and Roger Vignoles started with Brahms, fourteen songs in all sung with just a single break in the middle, giving a striking sequence of intimate drama. Brahms's choice of poet tended to be rather lower key than his contemporaries, he commented that Goethe's poems were all 'so finished that there is nothing one can do to them with music'. So in these pieces the words, though necessary, are only a vehicle for Brahms's own musical emotions.

Liebestreu (True Love) was a dialogue between mother and daughter, but a darkly serious one rather than the usual folkloric/comic style, and Brahms produced something deeply melancholic. Liebe und Frühling II (Love and Spring) was joyful and richly vibrant, though not without drama and Garanča successfully suggested the youth of the protagonist despite the rich maturity of tone in her voice. I have to confess that I did not pick up the musical allusions to Zerlina's aria Batti batti from Mozart's Don Giovanni, which Brahms added because the song was inspired by passion for a young soprano singing the role!

Geheimnis (Secret) was suitable intimate and confiding, each of the words being giving a fine sense of individual shape and colour. Wir wandelten (We wandered) combined expressive calm with poetic intensity, and then O liebliche Wangen (O sweet cheeks) exploded with passionate delight, fast and charming.

Brahms's Sapphische Ode (Sapphic Ode) was remarkable as Garanča and Vignoles gave it a performance notable for calm inwardness. Garanča did so much with very small vocal gestures, and was supported by Vignoles so that the whole was magically mesmerising. Ruhe, Süßliebchen (Rest, my sweetheart) from Brahms's Magelone Romanzen was surprisingly serious, in a performance that was calm yet full of deep emotions. Ultimately rather mystical, even though the third verse broke out into intense passion.

O wüsst ich doch den Web zurück (Ah! if I but knew the way back) was flowing yet strangely troubled, with a mood of elegiac melancholy. Vocally Garanča made the wandering melody into something nicely even. At the end she brought in a strong sense of fatalism, there was clearly no way back. Alte liebe (Old love) brought us more of this rich vein of elegiac melancholy, with a finely expressive piano postlude.

Mädchenlied (A young girl's song) was light and fluid, but with an implicit elegiac sense which gradually became explicit. Die Mainacht (May night) had a sadness evoking the 'snows of yesteryear' and combined an inward thoughtfulness with moments of passion. Again with a lovely, poignant postlude.

There was  more sadness in Es träumte mir (I dreamed), made powerful thanks to the fine control showed by Garanča. There was a sense that in Verzagen (Despair) the singer's despair is echoed in the turbulence of the piano part, complementing the dark hues of Garanča's voice. Finally Von ewiger Liebe (Eternal love) was firm of purpose, with a slow build to a firm climax with a highly troubled piano part. Within this Garanča brought out the radiance of young girl singing the song.

After the interval it was clear that Garanča had changed more than her frock. For the Henri Duparc songs she found a different brighter tone, far more forward with just the right nasal quality. Granted, her words did tend to get mushy when under emotional pressure, but overall there was a fine French quality to the vocalism. Au pays ou se fait la guerre moved from the elegant melancholy of the opening to the vibrant passion of the last verse, and Garanča showed a lovely sense of ease at the top of her voice in the long sinuous lines. Extase (Rapture) was sung with a magical, controlled, vocal line floated over a richly textured piano part, creating a real sense of shimmering ecstasy. Phydilé started calm and expressively hypnotic, full of rapture and seductive repose reaching vibrant intensity in the final verse.

Garanča's tone changed again as she found a sense of dark Slavic fatalism for Sergei Rachmaninov's songs, yet for all the richness of her lower register there was nothing solid or stolid about her singing. There was a lovely flexibility to O net, molyu, ne ukhodi (Oh no, I beg you, do not leave) with some passionately thrilling singing supported by Vignoles strong piano (Rachmaninov was a fine pianist and his piano parts form a complement rather than simple accompaniment to the voice). Polyubila ya na pechal' svoyu (I have grown fond of sorrow) was all sensuous line and elegiac intensity with a haunting vocalise at the end. Sumerki (Twilight has fallen) started with almost free recitative, and there was a freedom even in the more structured passages with a sense of narrative. There was melancholy here, but ecstasy too. Oni otvechali (They answered) was fully of vibrant passion, vividly communicated. There was a great freedom to the performance, leading to an ecstatic climax.Ya zhdu tebya (I wait for thee) had sense of suppressed ecstasy which exploded in passion, crowned by a passionate postlude.

Siren' (Lilacs) had delicate tracery in the piano and a gentle focussed sound from Garanča, with some seductive descriptive passages. Noch' pechal'na (The night is mournful) was a magical evocation of atmosphere with a lovely transparent texture still with a great intensity of line from Garanča. Then to finish there was the haunting Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Sing not to me, beautiful maiden), here and in the rest of the Rachmaninov we were simply bowled over with the seductive melancholy and longing as well as the musicality.

The Wigmore Hall was packed and gave Elina Garanča and Roger Vignoles a rousing appreciation and we were rewarded with two encores, finishing with a performance of Richard Strauss's Morgen which was sheer magic.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); Liebestreu Op. 3 No. 1; Liebe und Frühling II Op. 3 No. 3; Geheimnis Op. 71 No. 3; Wir wandelten, wir zwei zusammen Op. 96 No. 2; O liebliche Wangen Op. 47 No. 4; Sapphische Ode Op. 94 No. 4; Ruhe, Süssliebchen Op. 33 No. 9; Heimweh II O wüsst ich doch den Weg zurück Op. 63 No. 8; Alte Liebe Op. 72 No. 1; Mädchenlied Op. 107 No. 5; Die Mainacht Op. 43 No. 2; Es träumte mir, ich sei dir teuer Op. 57 No. 3; Verzagen Op. 72 No. 4; Von ewiger Liebe Op. 43 No. 1

Henri Duparc (1848-1933); Au pays où se fait la guerre; Extase; Phidylé

Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943); Oh no, I beg you, forsake me not (O net, molyu, ne ukhodi) Op. 4 No. 1; I have Grown Fond of Sorrow (Polyubila ya na pechal' svoyu) Op. 8 No. 4; Twilight (Sumerki) Op. 21 No. 3; They Answered (Oni otvechali) Op. 21 No. 4; I Wait for Thee (Ya zhdu tebya) Op. 14 No. 1; Lilacs (Siren) Op. 21 No. 5; Night is Mournful (Noch' pechal'na) Op. 26 No. 12; Sing not to me, beautiful maiden (Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne) Op. 4 No. 4

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