Saturday 8 December 2012

Rena Harms and Anyssa Neumann in recital

Rena Harms
American soprano Rena Harms is best known to UK audiences from her performances as Amelia in ENO's recent production of Simon BoccanegraShe will be appearing with Florentine opera as Michaela and with Staatstheater Braunschweig as Fiordiligi and we caught her and accompanist Anyssa Neumann at a private recital in London on Thursday, 6 December, at the end of a run recitals that the two have been doing in the UK.

Harms has a rich vibrant voice. She is a lyric soprano but you can't help feeling that her voice will develop in more dramatic directions. Her warm vibrato was perhaps a little strong for my taste in her opening number, Care Selve from Handel's Atalanta, but she was technically poised.

She followed this with a group of nicely contrasted Schubert songs, Du bist die Ruh, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Nacht und Traume and Rastlose liebe. Harms is a dramatic performer and each song was given its dramatic setting. This vivid presentation was aided by the fact that Harms delivered the whole programme from memory. She is clearly a natural stage creature and she rendered each song like a scene. She was able abetted by the rich depth of tone that Anyssa Neumann brought to the accompaniment.

I wasn't sure that this treatment worked so well with the group of Faure songs, Mandoline, Clair de lune and Fleur jetee. With Faure, less is often more and I wanted a greater purity of line and a more intensely French intonation and diction. Harms makes a warm, open sound which did not always suit the songs.

But she and Neumann came into their own with a nicely vibrant performance of Manuel de Falla's Seven popular Spanish songs. Here Harms' dramatic delivery charmed and involved, giving each song its own distinct flavour. Her rich voice suited the music and Neumann conjured vibrant Spanish depth in the piano.

After the interval Harms sang Samuel Barber's Four Songs, Op. 13, which set words by Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Butler Yeats, James Agee and Frederic Prokosch. It was a change to her her singing in her native English and she brought new relaxed naturalism to the songs. I'd love to hear Harms performing Barber's Hermit Songs.

Next a glorious group of Richard Strauss songs, Morgen, Zueignung, Allerseelen and Cacilie. Harms seems to have just the right combination of talents for these, richly vibrant and dramatic with a nice flexibility of lyric voice, with the ability to spin a long line, whilst allow the voice to fill out the climaxes.

I have to confess that I did find a little disconcerting her tendency to dramatise everything, presenting every song as a scena. But she certainly engendered a warm reaction in the audience. She finished with a group of Puccini arias, nicely differentiating Liu, Mimi and Laura, a lovely end to the evening.

I do not normally report in a private recital in some depth, but felt that Harms and Neumann deserved every support for such an involving recital.

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