Saturday 16 November 2013

Sheer magic! Felicity Lott farewell recital at the Wigmore Hall

At her Farewell Recital on Friday evening, Dame Felicity Lott was presented with a framed programme from her first-ever recital at the Hall in 1975, by Wigmore Hall Director John Gilhooly. Photo Wigmore Hall
At her Farewell Recital on Friday evening, Dame Felicity Lott was presented with a framed programme
from her first-ever recital at the Hall in 1975, by Wigmore Hall Director John Gilhooly. Photo Wigmore Hall
Felicity Lott made her Wigmore Hall debut in 1975 and since then has been closely associated with the hall, performing more than 80 times in nearly four decades. And last night (15 November 2013) she made her farewell recital, her last solo recital in the house. Accompanied, as ever, by Graham Johnson, she performed a varied programme of Schumann, Wolf, Strauss, Frank Bridge, Britten, Bizet, Paul Bernard, Maurice Yvain, Mireille Hartuch and Offenbach. The proceeds for the concert were going to the Wigmore Hall Endowment Fund and, to enhance the rather festive atmosphere, there was a glass of fizz for every audience member at the interval.

My own memories of Felicity Lott on the concert platform go back to the 1980's when such Songmakers Almanac recitals as The Ladies Almanc and If Dorabella and Fiordiligi were lieder singers were a revelation as to what could be achieved.

At the Wigmore Hall last night we opened with a group of Schumann songs, Widmung from Myrten Op.25 No.1, Liebeslied Op.51 No.5, Meine Rose Op.90 No.2, and Singet nicth in Trauertonen Op.98a No.7. Widmung was sung in an intensely confiding, yet radiant manner. In Liebeslied I noted the familiar Lott tropes, the way she has of thinning down the tone magically at important moments and the way you feel she is singing directly to you. The words were clear and importantly to the fore. Meine Rose was full of beautiful simplicity with a lovely floated upper register and a fine sense of poignant melancholy. Singet nicht in Trauertonen was full of perky charm and delight, with Lott's highly mobile face conveying much with a mere gesture. This was in many ways a celebratory occasion, so it would be rather invidious to start comparing to past performances, but very much present was Lott's wonderfully intelligent way with the music, the words and her voice.

Next came a group of Hugo Wolf lieder. First, four song from Italienisches Liederbuch, Auch kleine Ding, Du denkst mit einem Fadchen mich zu fangen, Was fur ein Lied soll dir gesungen werden and Mein Liebster is so klein. Auch kleine Ding was fascinating, with Lott displaying a wonderful way with Wolf's vocal line, understated by very involving and a lovely floated top. Du denkst mit einem Fadchen mich zu fangen was characterful and conversation, with emotions turning on a pin and a delightful throw away line at the end. Was fur ein Lied soll dir gesungen werden was again conversational with a lovely melodic felicity and very confiding. Mein Liebester is so klein was simply delightful, light and characterful.

Next came a final pair of Wolf songs from his Mignon Lieder, So lasst mich scheinen and Kennst du das Land. So lasst mich scheinen was sung with a bleached voice, Lott's simplicity and intensity combined with a magical piano accompaniment from Johnson. The final ewig wieder jung (forever young again) was magically floated; poignant and infinitely sad. In Kennst du das Land Lott and Johnson drew you in with a vividly drawn performance, dramatic and powerfully unsettling.

The first half concluded with four Richard Strauss songs. Das Rosenband Op.36 No.1, Ruhe, meine Seele Op.27 No.1, Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen Op.49 No.8 and Morgen Op.27 No.4. Das Rosenband was conversational, with floated lines and the voice fined down to a thread at the end.  Ruhe, meine Seele was simple and direct, very tender at first then full of dramatic intensity. Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen was a complete comic delight and Morgen was simply magical, the voice on a threat but sung with such intensity.

After the interval Lott and Johnson started with a pair of songs by Frank Bridge. Go not. happy day set a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson with Johnson's rippling piano complementing Lott's delightful vocal line. When you are old and grey set W.B.Yeats in a slow contemplative number, which Lott made very calm, full of rememberance.

Next came a group of songs by Bridge's pupil Benjamin Britten. Fish in unruffled Lakes from 1938 sets W.H.Auden in a song which combined a magically glittering piano part with Lott's poised but characterful account of this slightly curious and rather too clever song. More simple and direct was Britten's arrangement of the folk song O Waly Waly and finally the delightful French dance folk-song, Quand j'etais chez mon pere, with Lott getting more relaxed and more demonstrative as the song progressed.

We moved to France for the final group of songs. Bizet's Guitare setting Victor Hugo was wonderfully Spanish in atmosphere and full of great charm. Ca fait peur aus oiseaux from the 1857 operette Bredouille by Paul Bernard (1827 - 1897) was a complete delight, with the evocation of bird song in the piano. Both Lott and Johnson brought out the piece's fragile charm, with lot highly characterful in her performance. Another French operetta composer Maurice Yvain (1891 - 1965) wrote the next song, Je chante la nuit (c.1938). Here was rather a change of style, with hints of cabaret. Lott sung it with a thread of voice and lots of words, perfect in style and highly intoxicating. Next came a chanson from the cabaret artist Mireille (Mireille Hartuch - 1906 - 1996), Tant pis pour la rime (1938). Again, lots of words with Lott bringing her inimitable charm to bear on this delightful song.

Finally a pair of arias from Offenbach's operetta La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein (a role which I saw Lott perform to perfection in Paris). Both were sung with just the right style, the profound feeling for the combination of word and music. Dite-lui was bitter-sweet and, of course, Ah, que j'aime les militaires was a complete tour de force.

We were treated to two encores, first Poulenc's Fancy, so lovely to hear Lott and Johnson in Poulenc for one last time. And then Ah, quel diner from Offenbach's La Perichole, which needless to say brought the house down. Then there were speeches, from Felicity Lott's manager of 40 years and from John Gilhooley, who presented her with a framed copy of the the programme for her first Wigmore Hall recital. Then a final song. In other circumstances Bernstein's song Take Care of This House from 1600 Pensylvania Avenue might seem a little overblown but half-sung, half-spoken it became a fitting end.

This was a very emotional evening, and Lott made us aware of how much we will miss her in so many different roles.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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