Tuesday 27 August 2013

Katherine Broderick and Marcus Farnsworth at the North Norfolk Music Festival

Katherine Broderick
Katherine Broderick
Marcus Farnsworth
Marcus Farnsworth
We discovered the North Norfolk Music Festival by accident as we were in North Norfolk to visit the Houghton Revisited exhibition. The music festival is in its ninth year, directed by Barry Cheesman and Simon Rowland Jones, based around St Mary's Church, South Creake, a glorious 14th century with a fine rood screen and a wonderful set of angels supporting the roof. We attended a recital given by soprano Katherine Broderick and baritone Marcus Farnsworth, with pianist Simon Lepper, on Sunday 25 August in a programme of arias by Britten, Wagner and Verdi in celebration of the triple centenary with arias from Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucretia, Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser, Don Carlo, Ernani, Otello and Aida.

Our visit was preceded by a delightful dinner in a marquee in the churchyard, a regular occurrence at the festival, which gave the evening an extra special touch.

Both dramatic soprano and baritone voices are notorious for taking a long time develop, so we were treated, by and large, to arias from roles which neither Broderick and Farnsworth would yet perform on stage. But both gave us a series a highly involved, dramatic performances which made me look forward to hearing them on stage in some of these roles.

Katherine Broderick is clearly a soprano after my own heart, assembling a programme celebrating Britten, Verdi and Wagner she gave us a very wide variety, with Lady Billows (Albert Herring), Desdemona (Otello), Aida, Elisabeth (Tannhauser) and Isolde (Tristan und Isolde) Whilst Farnsworth was equally as wide ranging with Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia), Rodrigo (Don Carlo), Wolfram (Tannhauser), Don Carlo (Ernani).

They opened with a group of Britten's arrangements of Purcell, created for just such occasions. Sound the Trumpet was a great delight with both singers giving us nice crisp runs, supported by Simon Lepper's bouncy piano accompaniment. I've never heard it sung as a duet by soprano and baritone, but they made it work and their diction was exemplary. Here and throughout the concert both singers sang from memory.

Broderick has a large, bright voice which combines vibrant tone with a nice focus and good control and flexibility, Farnsworth has one of the most expressively beautiful lyric baritone voices that I have heard in a long time.

In Music for a while there was an interesting dark tone to Britten's realisation of the accompaniment. Broderick sang with a nice sense of line and understated control. Farnsworth's singing of Sweeter than Roses entailed putting the song into a very low key and I am not certain the song entirely worked. But Farnsworth sang with a fabulous sense of line, lovely tone and with a very expressive feel to the words.

Next came Tarquinious' aria Within this frail crucible of light from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, which Farnsworth sang with fine control and a gorgeous tone. Broderick then erupted onto the stage to give a consummate account of Lady Billows' act two aria from Albert Herring, I'm full of happiness. Broderick is far too young for the role, but she combined a hilariously vivid account of the aria with just the right brilliant tones, making a formidable Lady Billows.

Farnsworth sang Rodrigo's aria Per me giunto from act four of Verdi's Don Carlo.  His voice is still rather light toned for the role, but he sang with a lovely round tone and a superb, well filled line. The end result was not quite dark enough to be ideal, but still mesmerising. Broderick brought the first half to a close with Desdemona's final aria and prayer from act four of Verdi's Otello. Singing in bright but vibrant tones, she brought a combination of vividness and touching intensity to the work, creating both moving and gripping drama.

The second half started with a pair of arias from Wagner's Tannhauser. First Broderick lit up the church with a radiant Dich teure Halle. Then Farnsworth gave a beautifully controlled, nicely inward account of Wolfram's O du mein holder Abendstern.

Broderick brought impressive control to the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde,  both the intensity of the quiet moments and the sheer power of the climaxes. This was a performance notable for the sense of line. Whilst beautifully sung I didn't get a sense of Isolde dying for love and I felt that Broderick's performance will surely deepen over time.

Farnsworth's choice of  O de'verd'anni miei, Don Carlo's act three aria from Verdi's Ernani seemed a somewhat strange choice. I am not certain that the piece entirely suited his voice, but Farnsworth sang with great beauty of tone and brought the requisite drama to the work. The final Verdi aria was Aida's Ritorna vincitor from act one of Aida. Starting with a big, bold opening, Broderick gave us vibrant control combined with an intensity which heightened the drama of the piece.

They concluded as they began, with Britten arrangements this time of folksongs. The two singers gave The Trees they grow so High with a beautiful simplicity and a nice directness with the text. Then Broderick sang There's none to soothe again showing a moving simplicity. Farnsworth's performance of Sally in our Alley was more consciously artless with great charm and a nice turn of humour at the end. Finally came a pair of duet, both delightfully comic, Soldier, won't you marry me and The Deaf Woman's Courtship. We were treated to one encore, Oliver Cromwell sung as a duet.

Throughout the wide range of styles Simon Lepper accompanied with fine sympathetic support and brough a wide range of tone colour to the music.

This was a nicely judged recital, all three performers showed a fine communicativeness (helped by the fact that both Broderick and Farnsworth sang from memory) and you sense that there was an easy interplay between them. The North Norfolk Music Festival were given an immense treat.

The festival runs until 1 September. Further information from the festival's website.

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