Monday, 11 November 2019

Come into the Garden - Samling Artist Showcase 2019 at Wigmore Hall

Samling Artist Showcase - Come into the Garden - Wigmore Hall
Samling Artist Showcase - Come into the Garden; Claire Lees, Anna Stéphany, Nicky Spence, Dominic Sedgwick, Joseph Middleton, Somi Kim, Simon Russell Beale; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 November 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Songs from Beethoven to Britten in this imaginative Garden-themed survey from artists associated with the Samling Institute

On Friday 8 November 2019 at the Wigmore Hall, the Samling Institute for Young Artists held its annual artist showcase, an event where current and former Samling Artists come together in recital as a celebration of Samling's work. This year's line-up had been subject to some re-arrangement due to illness and unforseen circumstance. First, soprano Simona Mihai had to drop out, to be replaced by soprano Claire Lees, and then tenor Filipe Manu had to drop out owing to illness, to be replaced at short notice by tenor Nicky Spence. Entailing some alterations to the programme.

So the Samling Showcase on Friday, featured soprano Claire Lees [Samling  2017, recently seen as Oscar in Opera Holland Park's 2019 Young Artist performance of Verdi's Un ballo in Maschera, see my review], mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany [Samling 2005, last seen in Mendelssohn's Eljiah with the OAE, see my review], tenor Nicky Spence [Samling 2006, currently singing Manolios in Martinu's The Greek Passion with Opera North, see my review] and baritone Dominic Sedgwick [Samling 2017, currently a Jette Parker Young Artist at Covent Garden], accompanied by pianist Joseph Middleton [Samling 2008, artistic director of Leeds Lieder] and Somi Kim [Samling 2015 & 2017], with readings from Sir Simon Russell Beale. The programme, Come into the Garden featured music by Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Georges Bizet, Richard Strauss, Ludwig van Beethoven, William Walton, Charles Villiers Stanford, Arthur Somervell, Gabriel Faure, John Ireland, Jean Sibelius, Liza Lehmann, Manning Sherwin, David Baker, and Wynn Stanley.

Sir Simon Russell Beale, Somi Kim, Joseph Middleton, Anna Stephany, Claire Lees, Dominic Sedgwick, Nicky Spence - Samling Artist Showcase 2019, Wigmore Hall (Photo Roger Way)
Sir Simon Russell Beale, Somi Kim, Joseph Middleton, Anna Stephany, Claire Lees, Dominic Sedgwick, Nicky Spence - Samling Artist Showcase 2019, Wigmore Hall (Photo Roger Way)


As a prologue, we heard a reading from Andrew Marvell's The Garden, alongside songs by Robert Schumann and Hugo Wolf. Anna Stéphany was lyrical, yet serious and sombre in Schumann's Mein Garten, you just knew it was going to end badly, whilst Claire Lees was nicely perky in Schumann's Volksliedschen, and was joined by Dominic Sedgwick for the slightly strange by rather lovely Ich bin dein Baum. Finally, Sedwick displayed some characterful storytelling in Hugo Wolf's Der Gartner.

Spring featured Bizet's Chanson d'avril from Anna Stéphany, with lovely mellow vocals but the text failed to carry to the back of the room, Richard Strauss' Das Rosenband with Claire Lees bringing a delightful ease to the song (and making you want to hear her in youthful Richard Strauss roles), Beethoven's Mit einem gemalten Band and Adelaide from Dominic Sedgwick who combined a vibrant voice with good storytelling in the first and real expressivity with strong stage presence in the second. Schumann's Lebesgarten was a delightful duet from Claire Lees and Nicky Spence.

Summer was ushered in with William Walton's Through Gilded Trellises, full of seductive exoticism from Claire Lees.  Then we had the lyrical melancholy of Stanford's A Soft Day with Anna Stéphany showing lovely control and concentration, though perhaps she needed to be a bit more demonstrative to really reach the rear of the hall. Arthur Somervell's Birds in the high hall garden (from his Maud cycle setting Tennyson's poems) was charming and Dominic Sedwick paid the song the compliment of taking it seriously, finally another Schumann duet, Schon Blumlein from Claire Lees and Anna Stéphany, two charming voices moving on consort.

The second half started with Autumn, Le jardin de Dolly from Faure's Dolly Suite played by Joseph Middleton and Somi Kim. Claire Lees rose to the challenge of Britten's Now the leaves are falling fast (from his 1937 WH Auden cycle, On this Island) making it striking and rather intense. Nicky Spence was sombre and resonant in Faure's Automne, moving from stillness to a powerful end, and Spence joined Claire Lees for Schumann's charming duet Familien-Gemalde.

There was an out-doorsy, restless quality to John Ireland's When daffodils being to peer with which Dominic Sedgwick ushered in Winter, though I have to confess that I could have done without Britten's rather dour arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy, finely though Sedgwick sang it. Nicky Spence made Richard Strauss' Weinachtsgefuhl rather thoughtful and striking, whilst Claire Lees brought gentle charm to Schumann's Schneeglockchen. Anna Stéphany seemed entirely at home in the Swedish text of Sibelius' The diamond on the March snow, which was serious and thoughtful. Nicky Spence brought Winter to a close with a brilliant and vibrant account of Proud Songsters from Britten's 1953 Thomas Hardy cycle, Winter Words.

So far the programme had been beautifully crafted and imaginatively performed, but there were times when the singers seemed a little constrained, a little too careful and not everyone succeeded in fully capturing the stage, at least not from the press seats in Row W. But then, part of the aim of such recitals is to give the performers a chance to spread their wings and undergo challenges. It was in the final group of songs, Perennials, Postludes and Potting that everyone relaxed somewhat, and whilst all four songs were not comic, they provided some sort of relief and the singers seemed to rather more effortlessly project character in a delightful way.

Liza Lehmann's There are fairies at the bottom of our garden really took me back (I discovered the song on a Cathy Berberian disc as a student in the 1970s and it was one of the Pink Singer's party pieces in the 1980s). Anna Stéphany was clearly having great fun, wonderfully demure at first and then more outrageous with the final reveal. Dominic Sedgwick gave Manning Sherwin's A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square complete with the verse, and sang it with effortless charm in a relaxed way which made me long to hear him in Noel Coward. Claire Lees was charming and funny in David Baker's Someone's been sending me flowers and the evening finished with Wynn Stanley's completely barmy music hall song, Cabbages, Cabeans and Carrots. The only downside was that Nicky Spence did not give us one of his party pieces, perhaps next time!

Throughout, pianists Joseph Middleton and Somi Kim accompanied with aplomb, and both giving stylish accounts of the various songs in varied styles whilst supporting the artists. Sir Simon Russell Beale's readings varied from Robert Herrick to Seamus Heaney and John Updike, providing another thread running through the garden theme.

Elsewhere on this blog
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  • Engagingly youthful: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte from Ian Page and the Mozartists (★★★★) - opera review
  • Beethoven Transformed: volume 1 of Boxwood & Brass' new project  (★★★★) - Cd review
  • A final farewell: the Hilliard Ensemble & Jan Garbarek captured live on their final tour, Remember me, my dear (★★★) - CD review
  • A distinct voice: Emergence, Nadine Benjamin & Nicole Panizza in settings of Emily Dickinson (★★★½) - CD review
  • The Exiled Outsiders: music by Hans Gál, Max Kowalski, Peter Gellhorn at London Song Festival  (★★★★) - concert review
  • An artist should be careful not to put themselves in a box: I chat to tenor Leonardo Capalbo about the challenges of singing the title role in Verdi's Don Carlos - interview
  • Kiandra Howarth takes first prize at the Grange Festival International Singing Competition - my article
  • 'The first great example of British exceptionalism': Purcell's King Arthur re-thought in an engaging performance and accompany CDs from Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli  (★★★★★)  - CD & Opera review
  • A ravishing and heart-rending evening: Massenet's Manon from the Met, Live in HD (★★★★) - opera review
  • A remarkable reinvention: Verdi's Don Carlos in French in Flanders (★★★★½) - opera review 
  • Eccentric, passionate harpsichordist, in a ménage à cinq: the lives of Violet Gordon-Woodhouse - feature article
  • An intoxicating concert - that is the magic of song: Walt Whitman's bicentenary celebrated at London Song Festival  (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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