Thursday, 10 November 2016

Here's to the next 20: Samling Artists new and old celebrate with The Seven Ages of Man

James Garnon, Malcolm Martineau and Samling Artists new and old after The Seven Ages of Man at the Wigmore Hall - photo courtesty of Malcolm Martineau
James Garnon, Malcolm Martineau and Samling Artists new and old (Ian Tindale, Andrew Foster-Williams,
Benjamin Appl, Kathryn Rudge, James Baillieu, Kiandra Howarth, David Butt Philip)

after The Seven Ages of Man at the Wigmore Hall - photo courtesty of Malcolm Martineau
The Seven Ages of Man Britten, Warlock, Schubert, ives, Schumann, Poulenc, Liszt, Quilter, Wolf, Faure, Barber, Liza Lehmann, William Bolcom, Brahms, Copland; Kiandra Howarth, Kathryn Rudge, David Butt Philip, Benjamin Appl, Andrew Foster-Williams, James Baillieu, Ian Tindale, Malcolm Martineau; Samling at Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 8 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Celebration of Samling's 20 years with Samling Artists past and present

Samling is 20 years old and on Tuesday 8 November at the Wigmore Hall there was a concert celebrating the organisation's support for young classical musicians. The Seven Ages of Man was performed by Samling Artists from 2000 to 2016, Kiandra Howarth (soprano), Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), David Butt Philip (tenor), Benjamin Appl (baritone), Andrew Foster-Williams (baritone), James Baillieu (piano) and Ian Tindale (piano), and they were joined by pianist Malcolm Martineau and actor James Garnon. A planned appearance by Sir Thomas Allen, patron of Samling, had to be cancelled due to illness so we missed out on the judge's aria from Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury but Benjamin Appl took over Britten's The Foggy, Foggy Dew.

The programme was divided into the seven ages, Infancy, Childhood, The Lover, The Soldier, The Justice, Old Age and Oblivion/Second Infancy, and was preceded by James Garnon reciting Jacques' speech from As You Like It, and during the programme Garnon recited other Shakespeare including Sonnet 116, Falstaff's honour speech and Prospero's final speech. The musical items cast the net widely, with songs by Britten, Warlock, Schubert, ives, Schumann, Poulenc, Liszt, Quilter, Wolf, Faure, Barber, Liza Lehmann, William Bolcom, Brahms and Copland.

The songs and duets (with one quartet) were performed by different combinations of singers and pianists, so to a certain extent the effectiveness of the items depended on the performer's ability to make a quick rapport with the audience. Though a gala, the event lacked the elan of some programmes of this type, with the tone sober and serious even though there were lighter items. Communication was helped by the fact that all the singers sang from memory.
We opened with Infancy, Kathryn Rudge and James Baillieu performed two of Britten's A Charm of Lullabies, A Cradle Song and The Nurse's Song. Rudge gave gentle, warm performances but there was also something slightly disturbing about each song, often thanks to Britten's inventive piano accompaniment (beautifully rendered by Baillieu). Warlock's My Sweet Little Darling, performed by Kiandra Howarth and Ian Tindale, was delightful yet not as simple as it seemed. Finally in this group Schubert's Wiegenlied which Howarth, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, sang with a lovely sense of line though with rather fuzzy words.

Childhood began with Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu in Ives' The Children's Hour. Appl is a highly communicative singer, whether performing in English or in his native German, and he made this a vivid story. Again there was something slightly eerie about it too, you sensed composers tended to treat infancy and childhood with a sidelong glance. Appl and Baillieu continued with Schumann's Marienwürumchen (Ladybird), more straightforward yet sung with delightful charm. Finally in this group Howarth, Rudge and Martineau performed four songs from Poulenc's La courte paille. Howarth delighted in to fast and furious nonsense numbers, Ba, be, bi, bo bu and Le carafon whilst Rudge sang two calmer numbers, Les anges musiciens and Lune d'Avril, poised and magical with a lovely creamy line.

The Lover started with Kiandra Howarth, David Butt Philip and Ian Tindale in Schubert's lovely duet Licht und Liebe, Butt Philip's lovely rich tone complemented Howarth's vibrant drama. Next came a pair of songs from Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets. First Butt Philip, accompanied by Baillieu, brought real burnished Italian tone to Pace non trovo. This was a real, big-hearted, vibrant account, but with a lovely sense of line and a great feel for the words. Howarth, accompanied by Martineau in Benedetto sia I giorno, gave a big operatic performance, vibrant with passion.

Rudge and Appl accompanied by Tindale, brought charm, delight and a lovely feel for the words to Roger Quilter's duet It was a lover and his lass. Then Appl, accompanied by Martineau, showed what a wonderful story teller he is in a witty and sly account of Britten's arrangement of The Foggy, Foggy Dew, so delightful it made me regret Britten's omission of the saucier verses. Finally Rudge and Appl, accompanied by Martineau, sang Britten's duet Soldier, won't you marry me? making a finely humorous scene out of it.

The Solider began with Andrew Foster-Williams, accompanied by James Baillieu, in a dark and serious, even sombre, account of Schubert's Kriegers Ahnung the Foster-Williams continued, with Tindale, in Schumann's Der Soldate with Foster-Williams bringing his wonderfully dark toned voice to bear on this striking narrative. Appl and Baillieu performed two of Wolf's Der Soldat settings from his Eichendorrf Lieder. The first full of character with vivid words yet almost tossed off, whilst the second was equally fast but far more serious in intent.

Rudge and Martineau brought a change of mood in Faure's lovely, yet poignant Les berceaux with a fluid and flexible line. Butt Philip and Martineau gave a vibrant, large scale account of Poulenc's Bleuet, though I wanted Butt Philip to make more of the words. Finally in this group Foster-Williams and Tindale made Barber's I hear an army into something vibrant and intense, powerful stuff indeed.

The Justice started with Butt Philip and Tindale in Liza Lehmann's Lewis Carroll setting Fury said to a mouse with Butt Philip showing a lovely light touch, with a nice feel for the text. Howarth accompanied by Tindale, brought her cabaret instincts wonderfully to bear on William Bolcom's Amor from 12 Cabaret Songs.

Old Age saw Foster-Williams and Baillieu darkly elegiac in Brahms O wüsst ich doc den Weg zurück with Foster-Williams giving us a lovely chestnutty tone. More Brahms, this time Rudge and Martineau in Alte Liebe, elegant melancholy warmed by Rudge's voice. Rudge and Martineau continued with Barber's The Secrets of the Old, a nice change of mood with a smile at the end but I wondered if more could have been made of WB Yeats' text. Howarth, accompanied by Tindale, sang Copland's Going to Heaven with lovely firm tone and bright words, but perhaps she was not quite wry enough (this is a setting of Emily Dickinson after all).

The two song in Oblivion/Second Infancy opted for elegiac melancholy rather than something more disturbing. But Benjamin Appl and Malcolm Martineau made Schubert's Nachtstück something of the highlight of the evening, with Appl again reminding us of his mentor Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, and making the song a perfect controlled contained gem, ably partnered by Martineau. More Schubert to end, Howarth, Rudge, Butt Philip, Foster-Williams and Baillieu in Des Tages Weihe.

It was a shame that someone could not have dished up a Grainger arrangement for five singers and three pianists at one piano, so we could have had a real ensemble finale. But this was a fine showcase and celebration. Long may Samling's work continue and here is to the next 20 years.

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