Thursday 21 June 2012

Sylvia Schwartz at Rosenblatt Recitals

Sylvia Schwartz and Simon Lepper perform at the Rosenblatt Recitals, June 2012
Sylvia Schwartz and Simon Lepper perform
at the Rosenblatt Recitals, June 2012
(c) Jonathan Ross
Soprano Sylvia Schwartz appeared last night (20 June) at the fine recital in the current Rosenblatt Recitals season at St. Johns Smith Square. In fact, this was to be the series' last recital at St. Johns because from next season they are moving to the Wigmore Hall.

Schwartz, accompanied by Simon Lepper, gave a very traditionally structured recital which ultimately charmed and delighted. She opened with a pair of arie antiche; Paisiello's Nel cor piu no mi sento from L'amor contrasto, an aria on which various composers including Pagannini did variations,  and Se tu m'ami which is attributed to Pergolesi but is almost certainly by the 19th century editor Alessandro Parisotti. The aria was one of those which Stravinsky re-used in Pulcinella.

Schwartz has a lovely rich lyric voice, with quite a strong but attractive vibrato. She has the ability to fine her voice right down to a thread, when called upon. The two arie antiche were charmingly sung, and beautifully if a little carefully phrased. 

She followed these with a group of baroque arias, O del mio dolce ardor by Gluck from Paride ed Elena, and two of Cleopatra's arias (Piangero and Da tempeste) from Handeli's Giulio Cesare. The Gluck was finely sung, with nicely controlled passion which she allowed to escape at crucial moments. This was a committed performance, perhaps not stylistically ideal for Gluck, but displaying some lovely intense singing.

Piangero, which was performed with the introductory recitative, was nicely touching with a clear grasp of the fioriture in the middle section. Da tempeste however felt a little like an arie antiche rather than a piece of full blooded opera; it was technically good but a bit too careful, I wanted more welly. In both of these, as with the Gluck, I did not feel that she was a natural Handel stylist. Also, the style of her voice is not what we are used to hearing in this repertoire with her distinctive vibrato. That said, there were some lovely moments and she has the potential to be an interestingly dramatic Cleopatra on stage with the right director.

The first half ended with the sleepwalking scene from Bellini's La Sonnambula, Rossini's Una voce poco fa having been dropped as not fitting into the programme. With the move to Bellini, you felt that the style suited her voice and she had the ability to convey Amina's fragility and be beautifully touching. Some of the acuti felt a little too wild, but the fioriture were nicely done. Perhaps she needs to listen to Callas a bit more, not so much for the technical aspects but for the way that the great diva was able to colour every single note; Schwartz's colouring in the coloratura feels just a little bit too general at the moment.

There was a feeling, in the first half, that this was a performer on her best behaviour. Though she relaxed a little, this continued through the Rossini songs which opened the second half. Schwartz sang three numbers from Soirees Musicales (La promessa, L'invito, and La pastorella dell alpi). All stylishly done, with La promessa being delightfully suggestive and the yodelling in La pastorella coming over in charmingly tasteful manner.

With the move to Spanish, you could feel Schwartz relax a little. She seemed more comfortable both with the language and the idiom of Jesus Guridi's Seis Canciones Castellanas (1939). A Spanish Basque composer, Guridi (1886 - 1961) was an admirer of Wagner and his songs in his native Basque language were suppressed by the Franco regime. These six songs set texts by Enrique de Mesa. The first, Alla ariba, starts as a folksong with a young woman waiting for her farmer lover, but the mood changes to become more haunting when she talks of the farmer coming to see her. In Sereno, a young woman calls on the night watchman as she is frightened of an intruder, this is an altogether darker, richer song. Llamal con el panuelo has a young woman waving to her young torero, a rhythmically complex piano part at first only punctuates the unaccompanied vocal line in a striking manner. Schwartz and Lepper created an intense mini-drama out of the song. No uiero tus avellans is deceptively simple, but moving when the singer speaks of her loved one being hers until death. Como queres que adivine is a haunting little song full of suppressed excitement and the final song, Mananite se San Juan, effortlessly conjures up a lazy early morning.

Guridi's songs belong to the world of Granados and Falla, with hints of more recent developments. Schwartz sang them with controlled, supressed intensity and great style. She clearly has a great love of the songs and this came over in their performances. Lepper seemed to relish the fact that, for once, he had a real piano part to play rather than just an arrangement of an orchestral part.

The recital closed with a pair of numbers from 20th century zarzuela. Pablo Luna's De Espana vengo was inspired to a certain extent by the composers love of Franz Lehar. Despite the title, I come from Spain, the result was surprisingly non-hackneyed. It was finely sung, but Schwartz was clearly starting to have fun. Geronimo Gimenez's Me llaman la primorosa was perhaps a little more hackneyed, but lovely none the less and ended with a fine cadenza. 

In this pair of songs Schwartz relaxed enough to display a warm charm. This carried over into her three encores, which were to some extent the highlight of the evening with the soprano being most relaxed.  First came Granados's El majo timido which beautifully captured the songs mood and was captivatingly put over. Then, in more than creditable English with fine diction, she sang Britten's arrangement of Sally Gardens, with a lovely feel for the song's simplicity.  In fact, in a couple of spoken introductions, Schwartz demonstrated that her English was highly idiomatic. Finally, Tu pupila es azura by Turina was given a consummate performance. 

This was a recital which only yielded its riches gradually as Schwartz relaxed and allowed the audience to realise both her considerable talent and considerable charm. She was finely accompanied by Simon Lepper, who made the piano arrangements from the vocal scores sound like real music, and brought finesse to the genuine piano parts.

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