Thursday 22 August 2013

St Lawrence Jewery August Music Festival

St Lawrence Jewery
The August Music Festival at St. Lawrence Jewery is in full swing with free lunch time recitals each week day.On Wednesday 21 August I went along to hear a programme from Song in the City. Pianist Catherine Norton was joined by soprano Holly Marie Bingham and tenor Eduard Mas Bacardit (both studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) in an intriguing programme which interwove Britten's song cycle On this Island with songs by Schubert.

On this Island was Britten's first published song cycle, based on poems from a collection of the same name published in 1936 by W.H. Auden. The cycle was performed with each song paired with a song on a similar theme by Schubert, with the two young singers taking it in turns.

Holly Marie Bingham opened with Let the florid music praise from On this Island followed by Schubert's An die Musik. Bingham has a big, bright voice with an interesting depth to it which occasionally recalled to me the voice of Heather Harper. She gave the Britten a lovely, resolute trumpeting performance and did well with the words despite the rather resonant acoustic. An die Musik, by contrast, was quite understated with a lovely shape to it, but the brilliance of her voice still shone through.

Catalan tenor Eduard Mas Bacardit also made a lovely bright sound in Now the leaves are falling fast, from On this Island. He gave an intensely and lively performance, building it to a climax of great power. He was highly communicative with the words. Britten had such a close relationship with the English language that non-native English speakers tend to shy away from his songs, but here and in the remainder of the programme Bacardit showed a highly promising ability to communicate in English. Bacardit followed this with a vivid account of Schubert's Fruhlingstraum combining a fine sense of line and shape with strong German text.

A further Schubert song followed, Bingham sang Ganymed, bringing a nice fervour to the piece, and fine shape to the phrases. There was a lovely vividness to the sections where she pressed the tempo forward, and Norton contributed some delightful details in the piano. Bingham then sang Seascape from On this Island, bringing a bright brilliance to the vocal line and a good feel for the words, though in this acoustic there was a bit of 'wow' on her top notes.

Bacardit returned for Schubert's An die Meer, giving the song a controlled line and shape but keeping a communicative feel to the performance, with some nicely dark textures in the piano. He followed this with Britten's Nocturne from On this Island. Bacardit gave us a wonderful unfolding of the rolling phrases of the song, and he brought out the rather dark feel of the words, clearly relishing Auden's imaginative text. There was a lovely slow build to the song, with the screw gradually turning as the music became more threatening.

Next came one of Schubert's rare duets, Licht und Liebe in a beautifully thoughtful performance with the two voices finely balance, both displaying a wonderful evenness of tone throughout the range and a fine degree of control. They brought a beautiful simplicity to the song, a complete delight.

I had been unable to work out from the programme which singer had been allocated Schubert's Erlkönig and it is a measure of how both singers impressed that, whichever performed it I was going to be disappointed as I was keen to hear both of them sing it. As it turned out, Bingham performed the song (which means that I must wait to hear Bacardit perform it at another time). She gave a dramatically vivid account, varying her voice nicely for the different characters. Perhaps she could have lightened her tone more when singing the child, but she was beautifully seductive as the Erl King himself. She brought a strong sense of narrative to the song, and was finely accompanied by Norton whose playing was a vivid as the singing.

Bingham then sang the final song from On this Island, As it is plenty. She brought out the rather cabaret style of the song, though not all the words carried despite her hard work. This was a great delight, combining fun with a nice slyness.

Bacardit sang the final Schubert song, one which got everyone talking afterwards as it was one of Schubert's few Italian settings. Il modo di prender moglie sets a text by Metastasio from a group of three Italian songs by Schubert associated with the great bass Luigi Lablache (they are dedicated to him and were probably written for him). Despite having a text by Metastasio (the great writer of opera seria), this is a delightful comic opera style piece. Bacardit sang it with great charm and displayed a lovely knack of comedy.

The final item on the programme was a further duet, a comic one this time, Britten's The Deaf Woman's Courtship an arrangement of an Appalachian song written for Kathleen Ferrier and Peter Pears. Bingham and Bacardit gave the piece its full comic potential. We were treated to one encore, a repeat of Schubert's Licht und Liebe.

Throughout the two singers were finely supported by pianist Catherine Norton, who showed herself entirely apt in the very wide range of styles of music.

The St Lawrence Jewery August Music Festival continues through to Friday 30 August, with recitals by the Silk Street Quartet (23/8), pianist Hanna Watson in Schubert and Bartok (27/8), percussionists George Barton and Craig Apps in Britten's Timpani Piece for Jimmy, South African baritone Njabulo Madlala (29/8) and the EKA quartet plus Peters Sokolovskis in Schubert's String Quintet in C (30/8)

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