Friday 9 December 2011

Rosenblatt Recitals: Sabina Cvilak

On Wednesday, Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak appeared at St. John's Smith Square in the latest in the Rosenblatt Recitals series. Accompanied by Iain Burnside she gave an unusual programme which started with a group of Slovenian composers, ended with arias from operettas by Lehar and Stoltz and took in songs by Hauer and by Richard Strauss along the way.

The songs by Marijan Lipovsek (father of the mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovsek) and Franz Serphin were relatively sober and a quietly understated way to start the recital. But the final one of the group, Ciril Preglj's Ciciban, which sets a childrens poem by Oton Zupancic, was a delight and presented most charmingly by Cvilak.

Cvilak has been performing mainly lyric roles in the opera house, but her voice has an interesting edge to it and can be, at times, a quite powerful instrument which will develop rather interestingly. Her vibrato is not too over-developed and she sings with a very, very fine sense of line and dares to fine her voice right down where necessary.

The Slovenian group were followed by Josef Matthias Hauer's five Hölderlin settings from 1914, the early period of Hauer's mature work. Hauer (1883 - 1959) was a Viennese composer who experimented with using all the 12 notes of the chromatic scale equally, though in these songs there was a distinct sense of tonal centres. In fact the vocal lines were quite melodic in an austere way; Hauer seems to have set the texts as a sort of dramatic recitative and allowed the piano to add all the colouristic elements. There results had a sort of neo-classical beauty, but were very far from the sort of singer-pleasing songs which Richard Strauss was producing at this period. I did wonder if Cvilak could have made more of the German texts, but her voice seemed ideal for Hauer's rather plain lines. Sung from memory, as well all her items, these were a brave and interesting choice, very far from the usual operatic and song repertoire.

The first half closed with three of Richard Strauss's best known songs, Allerseelen, Zueignun and Morgen. Her Cvilak was able to let her voice flower for the the first time, though she also thinned her voice down considerably (almost dangerously) at time as well to produce a fine, delicate sound. Cvilak's instrument is not the most luxurious of soprano voice, but what she does with it is impressive and beautiful though again I could have taken a little more text.

For the second half she sang a pair of Puccini arias, Si. Mi chiamano Mimi (from La Boheme) and Senza mamma (from Suor Angelica). Both were nicely done but her Mimi seemed to lack the ideal feeling of warmth infusing the vocal lines; hers was intelligently done, finely moulded, but a little cool. I felt that Suor Angelica suited her voice far better and, given the incipient power of her voice, would be very interested indeed to hear her in the role on stage.

Finally we had a group of arias from operettas, 3 by Robert Stolz and Vilja from the Merry Widow, by Lehar. Here Cvilak finally seemed to relax. For most of the recital her stage presence had seemed a little stiff and it was only in the operetta performances that we got the chance to discover what a truly charming performer she is. She brought great care to each of the operetta piece, but did not kill them with kindness, imbuing each with the necessary combination of clarity and enchantment.

She gave us two encores; first of all Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur in a performance which made me think that hearing her on stage in the role would be very fine indeed. Then finally another Puccini, O mio babbino caro.

In all this she was superbly supported by Iain Burnside at the piano who even managed to make the operatic arrangements sound as if the composers meant them to be like that.

This was an impressive and sometimes charming recital from an extremely talented singer. I was rather aware that she did not always quite give us of her best, but recitals can be taxing affairs for singers more used to the operatic platform. Here she gave us an interesting programme, intelligently performed with room for some delightful charm in the operetta items.

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